GULLIVER has recently returned from a longish jaunt around Costa Rica, his new favourite country (until the next time he travels abroad). When he goes on holiday, your correspondent operates one cast-iron rule. Like everyone else, he sets up an e-mail auto-response to let people know that he is out of the office and will not be reading messages until he gets back. But unlike nearly everyone else he knows, however, he means it.

There are many good reasons not to check work e-mail while on holiday: for one thing, it is supposed to be a time to rejuvenate; for another, Mrs Gulliver doesn’t allow it. But the main reason for maintaining complete radio silence with the office is a lack of self-control.

Gulliver is not a man who finds it easy to dip in and out of work. He does not, therefore, have the option of a quick perusal of his inbox every few days to make sure that Economist towers hasn’t imploded without him. Were he to start looking, he wouldn’t trust himself not to then refresh his inbox continuously, and pore over the minutiae he found there, while he should be supping margaritas in the beachside bar. Better, then, to operate a policy of total abstention.

It works. Within a day or two, Gulliver’s mind flits happily between important subjects, such as whether an afternoon ice cream would spoil dinner, or whether one needs to apply sunscreen in a rainforest, without ever alighting on the unimportant concern of what might be happening back at the office.

Others swear by a different approach. The family arranged to meet some friends, who happened to be in Costa Rica at the same time, at one of the country’s stunning national parks. On arrival, we found the father of the clan, an aerospace engineer, glued to his iPhone, scrolling through his work e-mails. He explained that he couldn’t fully enjoy himself unless he knew everything was under control back at the office. His job was to deal with day-to-day problems, he said. It wasn’t that he was responding to trifling messages. Rather he was reassuring himself that nothing disastrous was afoot, which in turn allowed him to relax and enjoy his holiday.

He is not alone. According to one survey (admittedly conducted by a travel firm, with an interest in gaining publicity) perhaps half of British office workers check their e-mails while on holiday. Yet, few people deny the benefits of cutting those electronic ties when on vacation—both to the company and the employee—through the greater productivity of less-stressed staff when they return. Indeed, one paper by the University of California at Irvine went even further, suggesting people do not necessarily even need the holiday itself to unwind. All they need is an extended break from e-mail to get the same benefit.

After two weeks’ blissful ignorance of what is in his inbox, Gulliver’s heart usually sinks when he returns to many hundreds of unread messages. Yet it quickly becomes apparent that few of those missives have remained urgent enough during his absence to need answering. So for his next trip, he is thinking of going one stage further, and employing the strategy adopted by Daimler, a German carmaker. It gives workers the option of automatically deleting the e-mails they receive while they are on holiday, instead sending an auto response informing the correspondent what has happened and suggesting he resends it when they return. As the firm itself admitted, it was not only being kind-hearted. It was also, it said, to “safeguard their performance in the long run”. As workers become ever more connected, sadly, one suspects, that is a losing battle.

Bron: The Economist