Last week, my children completed their school year and entered into one of the best parts of kid-dom, Summer Vacation. Sleeping in, hours of play, little/no responsibilities were the hallmark of our yesterdays and a mindset many of us would love to get back to for a week or two this summer.
Still, each year many American workers leave vacation days on the table. A recent Hotwire.com survey showed that by year-end of 2012, the average worker had 9.2 unused vacation days. And for those who use the vacation days, many of us find ourselves unable to cut the cord from work. Make Summer 2013 the Summer of Fun and put a plan into action to take your vacation and try the following tips to ensure you are on vacation and not working remotely from the beach.
Allow one hour of email time a day: Do you dread coming back from a vacation to hundreds of emails/calls that need your attention? Does the tidal wave of work looming on Monday begin to ruin the last 2-3 days of your actual vacation? It does for me and so I all myself time to “Check-In” each day. This allows me more peace of mind knowing that there are no fires back in the office that have been left unattended and I will not be walking back into an avalanche of a “To-Do” list.
Personally, I prefer checking my email either first thing in the morning or after the office closes. First thing in the morning allows you to sift through any items from the previous day that need your two cents and provides direction for staff so they can move forward on their work. End of the day is also a good time as urgent matters will be addressed rather than sit overnight and it prevents you from worrying all vacation day about an issue you saw in your email in the morning.
While this is a strategy to help you deal with the workload, I freely admit this if far from the ideal.
Avoid weighing in: Do you really need to respond to that email or can someone else handle it? Is the email time sensitive or can it wait until your return? Don’t respond to emails while on vacation unless they require your immediate attention. By demonstrating to staff what you do and do not find important while on vacation, you will be setting up parameters for future times you are out of the office as staff will know what constitutes an immediate issue.
Provide outlets for employees to ask others: Before going on vacation, alert staff as to when you will be away and who they should seek out if an issue arises. I learned this by seeing how my female colleagues handled their maternity leaves, they often had to assign work to co-workers or delegate responsibilities. While going on vacation is not the same, the principle of identifying who can take responsibility for what is a good model.
You may think others will be hesitant to cover your client emergency calls while you are on the beach, by offering to reciprocate the next time your colleagues goes on vacation, the office will usually accept the extra work for a stress free, uninterrupted vacation.
Define what is an emergency: A friend of mine who used to run a small restaurant was on vacation when there was a multi-day power outage in town. Even though he was in another state, he needed to be on the phone directing others in how to proceed (finding other restaurants with freezer space, contacting suppliers about an emergency food order once power was restored, etc.).
Does your staff know what constitutes an emergency? By not weighing in on every email and providing outlets for employees to get answers they need, you will help define what constitutes and emergency. A mentor of mine (Mark) uses a peer (John) as his gatekeeper of emergencies. Mark’s staff is instructed to bring any issue they deem to be an emergency to John and John has the power to call and interrupt Mark’s vacation. Mark reciprocates when John is on vacation – there is a level of trust that the other person will put out any fires or call for help if the situation is serious enough.
Decision Rights: Staff need to know the level of their decision-making parameters. Is there a certain level, dollar amount, staffing hierarchy, etc. where they do not need to consult with you prior to making the decision? A month before your vacation, be sure your staff knows the boundaries and gets comfortable operating in this space. An article in Forbes detailed how all employees of the Ritz-Carlton have the ability to fix situations up to a certain dollar amount. This type of empowerment gets things done as opposed to being pushed onto the manager’s desk. When you go on vacation, you are less likely to be bothered with calls and emails asking you to weigh in on minor issues.
Go on, take your days off and this year enjoy them by actually being on vacation and away from work.