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NoMail on Holidays

How can you avoid a flood of emails when you return from your holidays? Alberto Tomatis, Senior Category Manager in Global Procurement and Alessandro Marzano, IT Project Manager Application Services in Global Infrastructure and Solutions, have come up with NoMail on Holidays, an innovative approach to managing absences. 

Why do you believe that NoMail on Holidays should be introduced?

Roche provides a range of services to help employees achieve and maintain a work-life balance: programmes such as Live Well, medical and training services to reconcile work and home life show how Roche also cares about the health of its employees and creates a great working environment that is conducive to both a balanced life and efficiency at work.

On the one hand, digitisation has provided more flexibility in managing our jobs and enables us to be connected in a global environment at any time, from anywhere; on the other hand, this increased flexibility has a direct impact on the work-life balance, at the expense of people’s private lives, families and themselves.

Talking to other colleagues, we realised just how many of them regularly check their emails during holidays, even when they have not been asked to do so. This behaviour affects their well-deserved time off, their recuperation and thus their time with the family. After the holidays employees spend a lot of time reading emails, even though many of these have already been resolved. Furthermore, trawling through the backlog of emails in the first days after the hols affects the employee’s efficiency, increases stress and negates the health benefits of the holiday he or she has just had.

How does NoMail on Holidays work?

With NoMail on Holidays the employee chooses a set-up that moves incoming emails into the trash folder, allows emails to be retained for a maximum of 30 days before deleting them automatically or alternatively places them in a separate, dedicated folder. The sender is notified with a standard out-of-office reply explaining that the email will not be read or delivered (even upon the recipient’s return) and names deputies who can be contacted as regards urgent matters.

Besides deleting or redirecting the email, NoMail on Holidays comes with a support pack that includes proper absence management procedures, checklists and stakeholder management guidance.

Preparatory activities in the lead-up to absences include designating a deputy, handing over ongoing tasks and pro-active information to stakeholders and communicating with the other members of the team. A key task before you leave is to schedule follow-up meetings with the deputy, manager and stakeholders right after the holiday to catch up and learn about what topics need to be prioritised. This enables the employee to ease back in upon his/her return.

What was the set-up for the pilot project and who participated?

Our first NoMail on Holidays experiment took place from August to November 2017. We were delighted with the tremendous support we received from Susanne Erkens-Reck, Head of Group Functions IT (FG), and the FG Leadership team.

Together with the FG Management Support and Communications team, Alexandra Greiner and Ana Isabel Exposito Vivas, not to mention Eric Buehler, HR Business Partner for Group Function IT, we defined and organised the experimental set-up during the 2017 holiday season.

Approximately 20% of FG employees who went on holiday during that period volunteered to take part in the experiment. The participants were given instructions on how to set up the Google Mail filter to move all the incoming email to the trash folder, excluding calendar invites. Checklists were provided to manage their absence before and after their holiday. A pre-defined standard notification message was provided.

What were the results and how was the feedback?

At the end of the experiment, we collected feedback from the multiple groups involved in the experiment such as participants, deputies, line managers, stakeholders and even non-participants to receive comparable data. The outcome of the experiment was promising, showing a positive impact of NoMail on Holidays on the work-life balance – such as switching off on holiday, reduced stress levels during and after the break, a perceived increased quality of the time off, opportunities (e.g. increasing knowledge-sharing, ensuring business continuity and boosting efficiency), more collaboration and confidence, and a smoother transition upon their return. 

Although some of the volunteers felt the need to scan through their emails in the trash folder once they got back, many of them felt much more relaxed to be greeted by an empty email inbox. And even if they still insisted on looking through the emails, it was less stressful as it was purely for information purposes.

Despite the concern that stakeholders might experience major disruptions or support bottlenecks from our IT organisation, the surveys did not yield any firm evidence of this. Instead, the majority of the stakeholders respected holidays as time-off, ran well with the deputy concept and felt well supported by meeting up with respective colleagues after their holidays.

On top of this, the experiment was a beneficial experience for both the participants and the FG Leadership Team, which had the courage to explore new ways of working. Appreciating and being open to controversial views and discussions has created a sound basis to explore and support unconventional ways of thinking and ideas to the benefit of our people – and ultimately improve the work we do for patients.

We recorded this video containing impressions and feedback from some of those involved in the experiment.

What’s next for NoMail on Holidays?

We are in contact with various organisations and teams. Live Well plays an important role here, sharing results and inspiring people to try out NoMail on Holidays.

As NoMail on Holidays ambassadors, we strive to raise awareness of this model at other Roche organisations and help leadership teams to expand this idea to other areas where digitisation or high expectations of employees have resulted in high stress levels.

The world is changing and becoming more fast-paced. Therefore, it is up to us to learn new ways of helping to ensure a healthy lifestyle and satisfaction in our professional and private lives.