How Can You Make a Vacation From Work Truly Stress-Free?
Last week we wrote about the high value organizations need to put on the time off from work every employee needs to take. (Find the article here.) We remarked that while data has not found any reliable connection between long hours at the office and productivity, creating a culture where people voluntarily “give up their vacation” to stay and help the team achieve its goals (or to protect their career), is intuitively a recipe for burning people out, and therefore counterproductive.
Have plans to cover vacationing team members.
Encouraging employees to take their breaks does create a challenge that needs addressing up front: When a team member is taking a break, the rest of the team does have to “pick up the slack” in his or her absence, and that can cause stress in those still working, unless the groundwork has been laid ahead of time to make it easier on those still at work. This is particularly true if the team leader is stepping out for a time. Let’s explore some ways to keep the team aligned and passionate about making progress while you are gone, if you are the one trying to break away for some rest and relaxation.
Leave this way:
- Plan for your absence at least a month in advance. Forecast with your team what issues may arise, and what responses may be appropriate.
- Review team goals and the tasks that need attention before your return. What should be wrapped up prior to your departure, and what can be easily dealt with while you are away?
- Formally delegate responsibilities to people to serve as your surrogate. Communicate those assignments to your peers and superiors.
If you are doing your job as a leader, your peers and superiors already know who these people are and what you delegate to them. Even better, they have established professional relationships of their own with these people under your tutelage, so the temporary transition will go smoothly.
Re-enter this way:
Assume great things have happened in your absence. Come back into the office clearly communicating that you are looking forward to hearing about everything that went on while you were away. Ask a lot of questions that help your re-engagement, and give you a chance to recognize effort:
- How did it go last week?
- What happened? What decisions did you make (and the rationale)?
- What goals did you achieve? Why or why not?
- What are your plans for further progress from this point?
Then, keep your mouth shut until they have stopped talking. Reserve judgment. Cast no stones! Remain objective. Assume they tried their best. Find things to praise. Assess their results with an eye on their constraints.
If you are leading your team properly, you and they will already know what to do while you are gone, because you and they are always in alignment on team goals and next steps to achieve them. You have also explored together possible pitfalls and roadblocks that may arise, and and strategized possible responses to those situations.
Time away needs to be stress-free to be fully rejuvenating. Setting up your team for success ahead of time does a lot to remove lingering stress about leaving. It also makes re-entry much less stressful, because you put your trust in your subordinates to perform, and have agreed with yourself to live with the results!
How do you plan for your absences at work? Is there a clear structure to have your responsibilities well taken care of while you are away, or does everything stop until you get back? Do you feel vacations are worthwhile, or do the benefits get counterbalanced by the mess situations you might have to fix upon your return?