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Out of office, out of mind? Not so fast, say many employees, who fear the tyranny of their email inboxes when on vacation, even when an “out of office” autoreply is set. In the age of the smartphone, employees are finding they just can’t disconnect or they end up anxiously watching emails roll in as the work piles up.

Some companies are going to extreme lengths to combat vacation email fatigue and reduce employee stress. German carmaker Daimler’s “mail on holiday” inbox feature automatically deletes emails when employees go on vacation. Ariana Huffington does the same for her Thrive Global employees. Olark, a San Francisco-based technology company, gives a $1,000 bonus to employees who take at least five days of vacation without checking in online and share vacation photos when they return. 

While these policies may not be practical for all companies, encouraging employees to leave work behind in the office can actually make employees more productive. In our “always on” culture, workplace stress is harming employee health, hurting engagement, and costing companies as much as $300 billion per year in lost productivity.

Helping employees enjoy a true out-of-office experience is just the start. Small changes to the workday can minimize stress build-up and help everyone operate at peak-levels:

  1. Encourage phone-free activity breaks.
    Integrating physical activity into the workday, especially outdoors, interrupts the build-up of stress hormones in the body. From midday workouts to walking meetings, let employees know it’s okay to take a 30-minute phone break.
  2. Dine as a team.
    Whether it’s lunch outdoors, summer Friday barbeques or craft beer happy hour, communal dining builds the camaraderie that’s key for successful collaboration. An extra benefit for employees? When everyone is together, they know that emails won’t be coming from teammates, so they can put down the phone and focus on each other.
  3. Offer unplugged work zones.
    Giving employees autonomy over how and where to work helps to lower stress levels and boost productivity. Consider offering employees the option to turn off their phones and email during meetings or periods of focus, like heads down work in quiet zones or group brainstorming in team rooms.

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