It being August, there’s been a fair bit of coverage lately of the pros and cons of keeping up to date with your emails while on holiday. No prizes for guessing where I stand.

The FT recently asked a panel what they thought with Sir Martin Sorrell weighing in heavily in favour since clients don’t switch off so why should we? I agree that the pressure is greater in a service business but do we really serve clients better by being on top of our emails even on holiday? I don’t believe so and there was a persuasive experiment by Perlow and Porter written up in the Harvard Business Review of October 2009 titled "Making Time Off Predictable & Required." This showed that a management consultancy was regarded by its clients as delivering a superior service when its consultants spent some quality time outside the office and not checking emails.

I think it’s a real pity if organisations are now putting pressure on staff to stay on top of their emails while on holiday. It really diminishes the benefit of getting away and for the family it should be a precious period without the intrusion of ubiquitous email devices. When I have run training sessions on managing email, people always make the point that they feel less stressed when they stay on top of emails when on holiday. They pour themselves a glass of wine, they tell me, and spend no more than an hour keeping on top of things. It strikes me that there is always a glass of wine as if to convince ourselves we aren’t working. Of course, we are and the likelihoold is that most of the messages are mundane. The fact is, the anxiety caused by our awareness of an overflowing inbox is greater than the aggravation of dealing with them while away or the disapproval of partner and kids.

We are starting to see more scientific research into the impact on our cognitive ability of constantly checking for messages – and the benefits to our deep thinking capacity of simply unplugging for a while. There was a timely item on Fox News in the US this week in which some neuroscientists went off into the outdoors without their BlackBerrys – watch it  here. It’s only 3 minutes long – see if you can get through it without checking for messages….