This morning’s paper had yet another wonderful complaint by a spouse who has been plagued by a workaholic partner who cannot curtail his email connections with the office. This spouse said her holiday experience had been turned into a “take your family to work” week. OK. That’s funny and I understand. I actually knew a former top manager at an R&D laboratory in the UK who would (really) have his spouse reading and answering email while he drove the car, as described in this anonymous opinion piece in The Independent. It can go over the top.
However, I hope many of these annoyed families realize that they would not be on a beach or in the Alps were it not for email and being able to stay connected to the office. As I have said before, and others have documented in research, the Internet enables people to be where they want to be for face-to-face, inter-personal interaction. Work can go on despite the boss being away on holiday.
Well, not always, and not for most people.
August is almost over, but what a time of a particular type of spam email – the vacation auto-reply. It often goes something like: “Thank you for your email, but I am away relaxing on holiday. If you really want to contact me, email me when I am back.” To someone who is not on holiday, and very likely working hard on behalf of this holidaymaker, this is truly annoying. Personally, I would rather not get a reply, and assume I’ll hear when I hear, than be told that my colleague is having fun, and that I have been wasting my time trying to complete a task that will be stopped in its tracks because someone is on holiday and can’t reply, “Yes, go ahead”, or “No, let’s talk when I am back”. Easy.
I find any auto-reply to be annoying, but if you want advice from one who is regularly tortured by this spam, here are a few tips:
First, act disappointed that you cannot immediately reply. Apologize that you are traveling and do not have access to the Internet for a time, and will get back as soon as possible. You are important, and your message is important. The corollary, is that you should not suggest that you – our holidaymaker – are too important to be bothered by email from anyone, or that you really deserve a holiday, as if the bloke working while you are on holiday does not.
Secondly, don’t activate your vacation auto-rely 2 seconds after 5pm on the Friday of a long holiday weekend. If you really have to have a vacation auto-reply, maybe wait a respectable amount of time before you check out of the real world.
Finally, if you must leave a vacation email, use them to begin drafting your final vacation email for when you pass away. That will get you in the right frame of mind to tell people how you really wish you could respond, but you are so pleased they thought of you in any case.
William H. Dutton (B.A. University of Missouri; M.A., PhD. SUNYBuffalo, 1974) is Professor of Internet Studies, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, and Fellow of Balliol College.