Sunday Soapbox

We’ve forgotten how to holiday

Count: 1

Going away? Pack a camera, a book and a map – and leave the digital world behind

Being always on is a con

You may not thank me for saying so, but I am on holiday at the moment. It’s hot, so I’m wearing shorts, a gloriously ragged linen shirt and a knackered old pair of espadrilles, caring little what the world thinks. Oh, and I’m drinking at lunch. It’s bliss.

But, as you won’t fail to have noticed, I am also at my computer, writing. And that, unless you think writing is an indulgent hobby for the greatly affected (I’m not saying you don’t have a point), doesn’t look much like a holiday. Which is a problem, because there is a very serious risk that this will undermine what I’m about to say, which is that when it comes to holidays, we’ve become proper mugs. Mugs that have forgotten how to switch off because we can’t log off.

So in the interests of making you think that while typing I’m also drinking cocktails in a sun-kissed corner of my postage stamp garden, soaking up the sun and revelling knee-deep in relaxation, I’ll try and drop in a few typos, maybe a spelling mistake, perhaps even a few grammatical howlers. But on with the point.

“56 per cent of people in work are addicted to checking work email”

If like me you’re on holiday right now and you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’ve already checked your work email today. I know I have. A survey by Oliver’s Travels published earlier this year found that 56 per cent of people in work are ‘addicted’ to checking work email, and that 37 per cent of us can’t go a day without checking work email while we’re on holiday. I’m amazed it’s not higher. What’s easier to believe is that only 11 per cent of those surveyed said they could go a whole holiday without checking in.

Some people think this is smart. The US edition of Conde Nast Traveller published a piece in February called Why You Should Check Work Email While On Vacation, with the startling sell: You aren’t relaxing unless you’ve just logged in. The piece is then full of ‘insight’ from exec types glibly saying stuff like, ‘there’s absolutely no harm in taking a few minutes three-to-four times a day to see what you’ve missed out on back home.’

What utter rot.

Anyone who’s ever picked up work emails while on holiday knows that ‘just checking in’ isn’t actually a thing. It won’t be the email from a client asking if something’s been done or putting in a request for something to be done once you’re back that floods the chillout channels with stress. Those are mildly irritating, but ignorable. They can be dealt with by the next-in-line named on your out of office, or left until your return. Not that you need to be thinking about your return just now – that’s for your return.

No, the danger lurks – and you know it’s there – in the emails that show someone is doing something against your wishes or in those that make you feel like you’re to blame for something. They’re the ones that really mess up a holiday. Because these messages don’t live with you for a few minutes three or four times a day, they live with you all day, because on holiday there’s nothing else more pressing to think about. And don’t pretend they don’t. Unless you’re a sociopath. In which case, your colleagues have my sympathies.

“We can blame the nerds for inventing devices, or the culture in our companies, but they’re just scapegoats. We’ve let this happen”

So you stew on it, and then your other half asks you what’s wrong and why you’re not fully engaged in whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing – like, um, being on holiday. And then you check in the next day, you know, just to keep on top of things and make sure everything’s alright back at base, and there’s another email that gets under your skin, and it just makes the first one even worse. Because dammit, DON’T THEY KNOW YOU’RE ON HOLIDAY?

Of course they do, but they also know you’re paranoid enough to be checking your emails while you’re away, and that all told, you’re very likely to respond to say that yes, you can do that meeting with the accountant next week, or that no, you don’t think it’s a good idea to move the photocopier to the other side of the office, because that’s where you sit. Oh, and by the way, that question about that pitch we’re working on that doesn’t have to be in until a week aftWer you’re back? IT CAN WAIT.

We can blame the nerds for inventing devices that mean we’re always on; we can blame the culture of the companies we work for; we can blame societal changes that we believe mean that to keep our jobs we need to be available ALL THE TIME. But they’re all just scapegoats. We’ve let this happen. We’ve forgotten how to holiday because we’ve forgotten how to leave to leave it all behind.

Only we can fix this. Turn off the phone, leave the laptop at home. Pack a camera, a book and a map, and leave the digital world behind. You’ll have a much better holiday for it – and because of that, you’ll be a much better version of yourself.