Illustration: Jing Jing Tsong

The Careerist: Must I Answer Emails on Vacation?

July, 2015

Few aspects of life are as thrilling, complicated, satisfying and maddening as our jobs. Victory puffs us up with satisfaction, a promotion and a bigger salary. Defeat can destroy our confidence, and that’s because we express and define ourselves through our work.
I hope this column helps you navigate the turbulent waters of Hawaii’s working world. As with any new baby, choosing a name for a column is difficult. “The Careerist” is descriptive, yet slyly subversive. Careerists are trying to do whatever they can to get ahead at work – not a bad thing, unless you relinquish your integrity or hurt others. But I also found 1,200 words ending with “ist,” many of them career related. Clarinetist, biophysicist, ichthyologist – it covers a lot of ground. So The Careerist will be an umbrella over many jobs, job titles, industries and ideas.
Let’s get started with some questions.
Q: During my vacation, my coworkers still email me and expect responses. How can I get them to respect the idea that my time off is supposed to involve time off?

A: I put this question to Clayton Kamida, president and CEO of the Hawaii Employers Council. The association has 800 member companies and deals with human and labor relations.
“In this day and age, it may be somewhat unreasonable for an employee to expect he/she does not have to respond to any emails while on vacation, particularly if it is for more than a few days,” Kamida says. But, he adds, “Being connected 24/7 can be a problem for many employees, and individuals have to make difficult decisions about balancing work and personal time. Different companies have different expectations regarding the availability of their employees, and it would be prudent to make sure that one’s individual expectations are in line with the organization’s expectations.”
Unless you’re on a once-in-a-lifetime trip, like a honeymoon or hiking up Everest, you should at least scan your emails once in a while. But you can still set limits. Notify co-workers via your “out of office” message that you will have limited access to email, so any responses will be delayed. Then set aside a short time each day to respond, close that screen and get back to playing!

Q: In my performance reviews, it seems management is only looking at the computer stats to determine productivity levels. Although my bosses speak of showing aloha, it can’t be measured in concrete terms with actual data. Not showing aloha actually can mean higher productivity in daily job summaries. It’s sad. But that’s what management wants to see. There is no app to determine aloha given. How could they measure your level of aloha given on your performance appraisal?

A: This question came from a frustrated employee in healthcare. I suppose aloha could be measured, in some ways. One would be to implement a 360-degree review process, where peers and subordinates could assess qualities like teamwork, vision and skill at managing interpersonal relationships. Feedback from customers could also be incorporated, and one could quantify time spent mentoring or volunteering. But I’m intrigued by the aloha quotient idea. Readers, does anyone have a job or supervise employees where aloha is clearly measured or defined? Shoot us an email to tell us more.

Q: I’m a confused guy. Should I kiss businesswomen I know on the cheek or shake hands or what? If kissing is appropriate, should I make the first move, should I do an air kiss or make actual lip-to-cheek contact? How well should I know the woman before I approach? Should I move to Borneo to avoid such awkwardness?

A: I like to kick off every meeting with an awkward moment! OK, not really. Let’s get some help from Astania Caputo, an etiquette coach and communications trainer based in Keaau, on Hawaii Island. She notes that the quandary over a proper greeting goes back hundreds of years in Hawaii: Polynesians used their traditional honi greeting, sharing the breath of life, while Captain Cook busted out his handshake. Awk-ward! Even today, says Caputo, “There’s such a diversity even between the Islands, or on the different side of one island,” she says. “If you’re on Kauai they might just throw a shaka at you; it’s so informal.” Caputo asked some colleagues for us, doing a little informal survey, and found that most people are comfortable with a handshake on the first meeting. “On the second meeting, with a woman, it’s a cheek to cheek kiss, slight embrace. The lips are really in the air.” Not wet. Not lips. Just an air kiss.
If you’re going to greet with a handshake, Caputo suggests, you “keep your body more distant and extend your arm out fully. If you’re any closer, the body language gets confusing, and that’s when it gets awkward. I would think on Oahu, the handshake would be more expected, until they get to know you. Which might mean, by the end of the meeting, you’re getting a hug.”
Still confused? There’s always Borneo.


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