Survival Tips: Reducing Office Down Time During Vacations
While the benefits of taking time off to unwind are plentiful, the stress it creates before, during and after vacation period is enough to keep some workers and employers on the job.
A 2006 Expedia.com survey revealed that workers took off four days less then what they were entitled to. The fear of overloading co-workers who are left behind to take over projects, and younger workers not knowing what is acceptable and wanting to make a good impression on their bosses, are common reasons cited for leaving unpaid vacation days on the table.
And the fears are warranted. Eighty-six percent of the 1,500 employees surveyed by British recruiting firm Office Angels said that the increased workloads that they inherit while their co-workers are off vacationing add to their own personal stress.
Respondents stated that failing to inform co-workers of the status of projects and not making important files available to those left behind were just some of the factors that contributed to the stress.
Below are some practical tips for how employers can minimize down time during vacation periods.
Planning in Advance
Set expectations early. Review your company or department’s strategic plans for the year and block off critical dates where employees cannot be absent. Then let employees know early on in the year when are acceptable periods to take time off versus not. Also consider encouraging employees to use some of their vacation days to extend statutory holidays, such as Victoria Day, Canada Day and Labour Day into four-day weekends as these are usually quieter times of the year.
Provide a deadline. Provide a clear deadline for submitting vacation requests with ample time to review all requests to identify any overlapping employee absences. Make sure to also regularly remind employees of the deadline along with an update of which dates have been reserved by co-workers.
Set a good example. Make sure employees don’t feel guilty for taking time off, regardless of how busy it is at the office, otherwise they won’t be able to relax while they are away. A sure way to communicate that you respect their time off is by encouraging them to leave their laptops, blackberries and cell phones at the office while on vacation, and then setting a good example by leaving them behind yourself during your time off!
Before Clocking Out
Get written project updates. Get employees to write a report summarizing the status of all projects they are responsible for that you and co-workers should be aware of during their absence. Have them indicate what stage the project is at, what actions need to be taking during their absence versus what can wait until they get back, who else in the department or company can provide additional information about the project, and the contact information of any external suppliers or partners that is involved in the project.
Assign a back-up. Have employees designate one person within the department who will serve as their back-up and who they trust can make decisions for them during their absence. Make sure that the person is aware of where all key information is kept and has access to relevant systems and facilities.
Leverage technology. Make sure employees use all technologies at their disposal, such as email, voice mail and Blackberries, to communicate that they are away and who to contact in case of an emergency or to inquire about a project. Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who teaches time-management workshops also suggests telling people that you’ll be back in the office one day later than your actual return date so that you have a chance to catch up.
Getting Back into the Groove
Review project updates. Schedule a meeting between returning employees, their back-up and anyone else who can provide valuable information with regards to the status of projects during their absence. Ideally the meeting should take place first thing in the morning, as this will give employees a better context for quickly reviewing all the e-mails they received while on vacation.
Focus on getting caught up. Encourage employees to focus their first day back on getting caught up with emails and the status of projects. Try not to assign any new projects on their first day. Jeffrey Mayer of SucceedingInBusiness.com also suggests that employees schedule a meeting with themselves to work on specific tasks. Blocking off the time in their calendar will also prevent co-workers from scheduling a meeting during their valuable, catch-up time.
Organize a group lunch. It normally takes employees a couple of days to resume regular productivity after a vacation because they’re in a more relaxed state and because they spend time sharing their vacation stories with co-workers throughout the day. Make a point of organizing a group or departmental lunch so that returning employees just have to recount their story once at a more appropriate time of the day.