The average worker receives 121 emails per day, so it’s important to set boundaries like they do at Thrive Global
Avoiding email on vacation can help you Thrive.
That’s the idea behind the new Thrive Away policy, introduced by Arianna Huffington at Thrive Global, the wellness consultancy she now runs. The Huffington Post co-founder described Thrive Away as a tool that deletes all incoming email messages when an employee is away, with senders being told to resend their note at a later time if it’s truly urgent.
“The key is not just that the tool is creating a wall between you and your email,” she recently wrote in the Harvard Business Review. “It’s that it frees you from the mounting anxiety of having a mounting pile of emails waiting for you on your return — the stress of which mitigates the benefits of disconnecting in the first place.”
Huffington has clearly identified one solution to a pressing problem. About 74 trillion emails are sent yearly, or 270 billion such messages per day, data from Radicati show. According to the tech research firm, the average American professional can expect to receive 121 emails daily. Compound that over the span of a two week vacation, and it isn’t pretty. About 40% to half of American workers take at least a peek at their email even while on holiday, studies show.
That’s why management experts largely applaud Huffington’s move. “It’s a really powerful statement from a work-life balance and disconnecting perspective for an organizational leader to commit to that,” says Julie Cohen of coaching firm Work Life Leader. “Top-down embrace of this kind of policy allows everyone else to live that.”
The benefits of going on vacation and disconnecting from the workplace aren’t a secret. It significantly reduces stress and improves workers’ productivity upon their return to the office. A recent internal study by auditor Ernst & Young found that for every 10 hours of vacation time its employees enjoyed, there was an 8% boost in their annual performance rankings. “Anything that supports the employee will ultimately benefit the company,” says New York careers consultant Kristina Leonardi.
But some wonder if Huffington’s play is a tad extreme for Corporate America. “American culture is very much about personal autonomy and this [may] take it away,” says Cohen. She notes that an email deletion policy may also be difficult for people with sales-related jobs, where timeliness is key. “I love the idea but part of me wonders ‘what if I missed a great opportunity?’” Instead, she recommends a scaled-down version of Thrive Away, in which workers send a firm out-of-office message saying that the onus is on those reaching out to contact them again upon their return.
For its part, Thrive Global says that Thrive Away is still in beta mode and optional for its employees. “The point is to get people to rethink vacation, which, in recent years has come to mean a time in which we’re still half-working, which of course defeats the point,” says a spokesperson for Huffington, adding that the tool comes with an option of archiving emails instead of deleting them.
Still, Thrive Away Lite could make buy-in from head honchos easier. And even if your company doesn’t adopt this policy, there are ways you can lessen the burden of email while you’re on vacation. Leonardi thinks a filtered folder for emails that one is copied on could significantly help reduce the stress of returning to a full inbox. This makes it easier for you to separate the stuff you need to do immediately from the things that are “not going to produce anxiety,” she says.
Setting communication boundaries with co-workers and clients—and not just for vacation email—is also important. For instance, you may want to tell stakeholders that you typically don’t read messages on weekends or on holiday, but if there’s something truly urgent, they should feel free to highlight that in the subject line. (Of course, this is something you’ll want to discuss with your boss beforehand, so that you’re aware of their expectations.) “It’s a [true] cliché that you teach people how to treat you,” says Leonardi. “You should be empowered to know that your time and energy are yours and that being in control of it makes you a more effective employee anyway.”
That’s why Thrive Away is still a good starting point for conversation, even if you know there’s no way your company will adopt it wholesale. “You can bring up the Huffington article and say ‘wouldn’t that be great,’ because even that extreme policy could make for good conversation,” says Leonardi. “Use that example to start moving in the direction. Maybe you can take a full hour off for lunch if you have to check emails while on vacation.”
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