Q&A: Should you answer emails on vacation?

Find out what the expectations are from your manager or HR before heading to the airport.

Q: I’m headed south. Do I have to answer emails while I’m on vacation?

A: We’re guessing you’ve been in a similar situation: you’re planted on a lounge chair in St. Barts, margarita in hand, watching the waves crash and the palms sway when you pick up your smartphone to take a selfie for Facebook (won’t all your friends be envious!). But first you check your email (out of habit) only to find nagging messages from your boss and colleagues. What’s a vacationer to do? Open, read and respond to emails (even though your coworkers know you’re away) or simply snap a photo of your view and go back to that margarita?

Cissy Pau, the principal consultant of Clear HR consulting in Vancouver, says things can get muddled if your employer requires you to check in when you’re on vacation. “You’re technically supposed to be away from work. If there are expectations set by the company for employees to respond to email when on vacation, that can open a can of worms,” she says. Her advice is to find out what the expectations are (from your manager or HR) before you head to the airport (or the couch, if you’re having a staycation). “Are you to check email every day? Shut down completely? Auto forward to a colleague? Include that you won’t be checking emails in your out-of-office message? There may be different expectations for different levels of employees,” she says.