Email makes it hard to relax when you’re on vacation. Even if you turn off notifications and refuse to check your inbox, it’s easy to spend your precious leisure time dreading the avalanche of messages that await you upon your return.
Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of the wellness company Thrive Global, has a simple remedy for this dilemma. When an employee goes on vacation, all the emails they receive during that time are automatically deleted.
She explains the system in a recent article for Harvard Business Review:
“The way it works is simple: While you’re away on vacation, people who email you get a message, letting them know when you’ll be back. And then — the most important part — the tool deletes the email. If the email is important, the sender can always send it again. 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. So 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.”
To test the system, I emailed a Thrive employee who is currently on vacation. I received a clear automatic response: “Thank you for your email. I am out of the office through August 27. For anything urgent re Thrive Global please email [Thrive employee’s name and email]. Otherwise, please email me again when I return as this email will be deleted.”
The tool, known as “Thrive Away,” is a quick way to take the pressure off employees to respond to the emails they receive while they’re out of the office. Because of the rule of reciprocity, many people otherwise feel obliged to respond to a positive action with another positive action, as Jocelyn Glei explains in Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distraction, and Get Real Work Done, “Even if it takes forever to get to it, we still can’t shake the feeling that we owe everyone [who emails us] a response,” she writes in Quartz.
As an added bonus, automatically deleting emails may encourage employees to actually take some time off. As Huffington explains in HBR, a recent US Travel Association Project study found that in 2016, 54% of Americans left unused vacation time on the table. “The top reason given? A ‘return to a mountain of work,’ cited by 43% of people, up from 37% the year before. And yet researchers have found that people who take time off are more likely to get a raise or promotion. So we’ve got some work to do on not working,” she writes.
Huffington’s email-deleting tool won’t solve all her employees’ post-vacation woes, nor is she the first to employ it. But it does shift the burden of email from the recipient to the sender. As one Quartz colleague says, too often, “your inbox becomes someone else’s to-do list.” It’s much more empowering to return from vacation knowing that, upon your return, you’ll get to set your own priorities.