You know that coworker who won’t stop sending you emails while you’re out of the office? Who sees an away message as a personal challenge to inundate your inbox with as many mundane concerns as possible? Do you ignore the emails, knowing you’ll be met with passive-aggressive comments when you’re back in the office? Or do you fold and respond?
It looks like Arianna Huffington’s team at Thrive Global has figured out a solution to that conundrum—that doesn’t involve maiming or murdering said coworker. In the Harvard Business Review, the seasoned leader and longtime champion for work-life balance makes a persuasive case for a new technology her company uses: It deletes the emails you receive while on vacation.
I know it may be a challenging concept for those of us who have a hard time putting down our phones (raises hand), but it's actually pretty painless. When you get an email while on vacation, the tool simply lets senders know you're out of the office—and then it deletes the email. As Arianna notes, if the email is important, the sender can always send it again, and if it’s not, then it’s not waiting for you when you get back, or, even worse, tempting you to read it while you’re away. "The key is not just that the tool is creating a wall between you and your email; 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," she argues.
Sounds great, but here’s another reason why it’s genius: It evens the playing field between working moms and the rest of our colleagues.
As a working mom, it’s pretty much impossible to be available 24/7. There will be times your kid is sick or performing her first concerto or just needs a little one-on-one time with mom. And the very limited time we get to spend on vacation with our kiddos is pretty precious. Personally, I like to spend that time actually interacting with my son. But the emails don't stop just because we're not in the office, and we’re all familiar with the churning in our gut that comes with sneaking away from the Thanksgiving table to answer a work email.
We can talk about setting boundaries, but it is often just that—talk. Because when your job performance is on the line, you’re going to answer that email, right? Even when it kills you a little inside to leave your family, just for a few minutes.
That’s not to say employees without kids don’t have compelling demands on their time out of the office—there’s a persuasive case to be made that we should all put down our phones when we leave work. (And Arianna makes a pretty good one, explaining all the reasons why “being better at our jobs means being better at vacation.”)
But it’s simply going to be harder for working moms (and dads) to answer every single email than it is for workers without kids. When all employees are forced to go on a digital detox while on vacation, no one has a strategic advantage. Working moms can put their phone down without any worries that backstabbing Bobs will use the time to undermine them with management. And to, you know, relax.
That’s also pretty important.