Americans are taking fewer vacation days and enjoying them less, according to a recent survey of 1,200 employees from various industries. The study, conducted at Celebrity Cruises, found that:

  • 47% of employees didn't use all their vacation days, mostly because they knew they'd encounter a "mountain of work" when they returned from vacation.
  • 65% of female employees reported being contacted by work during vacation and 74% said the communication could have waited until they returned from vacation.
  • 61% of male employees reported being contacted by work during vacation and 70% said the communication could have waited until they returned from vacation.
  • 40% of employees who vacationed with a spouse or a significant other ended up in a fight because the employee worked (usually email) while supposedly on vacation.
  • 56% of employees felt extra stress as the result of the additional work prior to a vacation, thereby negating much if not all of the intended stress-relief.

Not to worry, though.

In an earlier column, I provided an "I'm On Vacation" email (originally from The Atlantic) that ensures 1) you won't be bother by pesky work emails and 2) you won't return from vacation to a bloated inbox. Here it is:

"I am out of the office and expect to have only infrequent email access. Thank you for your message. Email received between [these dates] will be deleted from this server. Please send your message again after [this date]."

Here's why this automatic email works where other approaches don't:

  • It establishes that you deserve your vacation and you intend to take it.
  • It explains that you have no intention of making yourself available.
  • It shows that you're confident enough to ignore peer pressure.
  • It makes your presence more valuable by making you less accessible.
  • It filters out SPAM because only important emails will be resent.
  • It ensures that you can hit the ground running when you return.

If you're thinking that your work emails are so important that you couldn't possibly delete them all, consider this: research shows that two thirds of work email is SPAM and noise and, of the third that's not, only 10 percent needs to be answered within 5 minutes.

In other words, only 3 out of every 100 emails you receive actually needs immediate attention--which you can't be expected to give to the issue when you're on vacation (otherwise you aren't on vacation!)

This approach is more than just a way to remove stress from your vacation; it's also a declaration of personal freedom from the sick notion that work should always trump your personal life.

After all, if you can't take control of your agenda during your vacation, how can you expect to achieve work/life balance anywhere else?