Saturday, 24 December 2011

Leave and Clayton's Leave

I have been on leave for four weeks. Before I went on leave I put in place an email notice that would alert people to the fact that I was on leave in the hope that they would let me … well, leave. Enjoy my holidays in peace and not expect me to answer my email immediately.

It didn't stop the flood of email, and it hasn't stopped everyone from expecting a reply to their email while I am on leave (i.e., expecting me to return to work). And some of the tasks I have been asked to perform are not simple ones, but time-consuming and tedious tasks. My leave could easily turn into Clayton's leave: "the holiday you have when you're not having a holiday."

Well, in the news today there is a story about Volkswagen blocking after-hours e-mails, which is described here as "a growing complaint in the workplace":

Volkswagen says it took steps to have its Blackberry servers stop sending e-mails to some of its off-duty employees who had complained. The company stops sending messages 30 minutes after the end of employees' shifts and resumes 30 minutes before the next shift starts, the BBC reported.


Volkswagen is not alone in hearing from employees who feel their employer is infringing on their personal time with after-hours e-mails, the BBC said.

"It's bad for the individual worker's performance being online and available 24-7," said Will Hutton, chairman of the Big Innovation Center at The Work Foundation. "You do need downtime, you do need periods in which you can actually reflect on something without needing instantaneously to give a reaction.

"Secondly, it has a poor impact on an individual's well-being. I think that one has to patrol quite carefully the borderline between work and non-work.

"So I can see why some firms are taking this action, the problem is that a universal response is impossible ... but certainly we should have the capacity to be opted out of it rather than be opted in."

The funny thing is, Monash is keen for its employees to take leave, partly because of the financial burden of carrying accumulated leave, but also because they recognise the benefit in terms of staff well-being. In fact, I have received a number of emails in the last few weeks telling me how good it would be for me to take the leave that I am on.

In fact, Monash are so insistent that you take your leave and not accumulate it that they will schedule you for leave whether you choose to take it or not. So, if you keep working through the period they have chosen for you, you simply lose the leave.

Of course, you can't take leave during the teaching period (26 weeks per year), or the exam period (eight weeks), or immediately before semester (six weeks), so there really is only about eight to ten weeks a year in which you can take leave. Which is now. So almost everyone is on leave at this time of year.

Which makes it even more strange/weird/bizarre/annoying/whatever that I (and other staff) continue to receive email demanding action at this time of year, while I/we/they are on leave. It is the sort of thing, you'd think, that the unions here would want action on.

So, starting today (which is when my new year starts) I am going to make renewed efforts to disentangle my work and personal email accounts, contacts etc, with the intention (this is sounding perilously close to a New Year's Resolution [and, therefore, doomed to failure]) of only reading and answering work email while I am at work.

Which will mean that, when I go on leave next time I won't have to work so hard to stay on leave—though I will face an even longer email backlog when I return from leave.

**And I realise that posting on my academic blog during my break may seem like work, but I ain't paid for it and I certainly get no credit for it (see here), so this is a hobby, not work!

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