A woman driving a red car raising her arms as she drives through a forest.

Work hard. Play when I have some time.

Work hard. Play during the three weeks out of the year I have vacation.

Work hard. Work during some or most of my vacation.

The scenarios above are how many people today view work and time away from work. These scenarios beg the question, how do vacation time and work exist together? Should they exist together? This is an important question especially with the invention of smart phones that import our work email directly and give our employers a direct line to us during vacation.

There was a time when you were unreachable and couldn’t connect to the office when you went on vacation. Times have changed. How can we make sure we get the necessary time off during vacation to recharge our batteries and relax so we can return to work as a productive and well-rested employee? To do so requires us to investigate both external and internal factors.

Before you leave on vacation, make sure you have addressed the necessary external factors. For example:

  • Make sure to give your boss, co-workers and clients as much notice as possible.
  • Make sure to set expectations with your boss, co-workers and clients.

For example, have you set the expectation that you will be checking email daily, not at all, or once every three days? Have you set the expectation that you will be checking your voicemail? If there is an urgent client issue while you are away, what expectation is set with them? Will you be traveling with a computer? Will you have internet access? Will you have access to your company emails through your phone? Do they anticipate that you will be using the technology you have access to?

  • Make sure to set appropriate out-of-office messages on your email and voicemail. Leave a back-up number if possible for a co-worker or your boss so they can respond to questions while you are out.
  • It may be clear in your mind how much you intend to work or not work during vacation, however, others may have different expectations. Make sure you have the conversations before you leave to ensure everyone is in agreement.

Making sure the external expectations are taken care of is important for any vacation. However, many individuals will log in and see what is happening, even if the expectation is set that they will not be checking their email. You need to set expectations with yourself on how you are going to handle work while you are away.

  • Will you check your email?

If so, for what purpose? Some individuals want to stay on top of what is happening and can easily “tune out” what isn’t critical. Others want to process non-essential emails while they are gone so they don’t return to 1000 emails to sort through at the end of vacation. Others do not want to read any work email. Whatever makes sense for you and your situation, make sure to follow through on it. Set guidelines for yourself. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies on vacation.

  • Monitor your guilt.

Some individuals say they feel guilty leaving on vacation during the middle of a big project even if they have given enough notice and set expectations with everyone. To be a productive worker, you need some time away to recharge your batteries, clear your mind, spend a large amount of time thinking about other things. If you are a person who tends to feel guilty on vacation, ask yourself: did you set expectations with your boss, co-workers and clients? If yes, then give yourself permission to relax. You will return as a more productive employee than if you worked continuously with no time off.

Some individuals have no trouble taking vacation, while others struggle. Setting the correct expectations with others as well as yourself can help ease you into vacation. Will setting the correct expectations ensure you are not bothered over your vacation? No. Our work environment doesn’t operate that way all the time.

Even if you set extremely clear expectations and don’t have access to your work email, you may still get urgent phone calls and requests over your vacation. However, taking some time in advance of your vacation to set the right expectations with others and with yourself is a critical part of setting boundaries and being able to enjoy that well-deserved time off.


work hard. play hard., Work hard. Play hard.

Amy Wolfgang

Amy Wolfgang is a career coach who founded Wolfgang Career Coaching and co-founded Coaching 4 Good. She brings over 15 years of corporate and coaching experience to help organizations boost employee engagement while simultaneously helping her clients excel in their careers. She is a certified PCM (Professional Career Manager) and has a Master’s degree in Educational Psychology from The University of Texas at Austin.

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