Does the thought of vacation fill you with dread? Not because you want to avoid a week at your in-laws. It’s the hundreds of unanswered emails, missed deadlines, stalled projects and desperate employees waiting for your return so that decisions can be made.
If you, or one of your managers, avoid vacation because it’s too stressful to be gone, it’s time to implement some changes, and fast.
1. Set the tone
Time off is essential for employees to recharge, destress, catch up on sleep and spend time with family and friends. Study after study proves that employees who don’t take vacations become significantly less productive.
This means that your company’s top management must communicate that vacation is essential to the health of the organization and its employees. Set the tone by taking the vacation owed you and insist that your managers do the same.
2. Plan for your team
Organizations run too lean these days to leave vacations to be scheduled by chance or when the work slows down. This means planning is key. At the beginning of the calendar year or fiscal year, have your managers ask every employee to request at least two weeks that they would like to be away.
Each manager will then need to look at the requests and balance the busy times during the summer and the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.
Be sure to communicate that you will need to balance vacation requests with company needs, and that some negotiation may follow. After everyone has been assigned their first two choices, you can fill in the calendar with requests from long-term employees who receive additional time off.
3. Plan for the individual
Many employees feel guilty for burdening their team-mates with extra work. If an employee comes to you trying to back out of vacation, or announces that they’ll be working during vacation, it’s time to coach them through the steps of vacation planning. This means that the employee should plan the following before taking time off:
- Decide which tasks can be deferred
- Determine which tasks can be handled by someone else
- Cross-train team members so they can support one another
- Communicate vacation dates and who will be their backup
Depending on the job that needs to be covered, it may be necessary to bring in temporary workers to handle tasks that can’t be covered by other full-time workers. Planning helps you identify which jobs may require reinforcements.
4. Build in buffer time
Perhaps the most underutilized and most effective technique to reduce vacation stress is buffer time.
Buffer time is simply time blocked off before and after vacation to prepare for leaving and catching up after vacation.
You might encourage your employees to schedule buffer time before vacation to call customers and remind them who to call while they’re gone. They could also use this time to meet with coworkers to make sure they’re fully cross-trained on the tasks they’ll do for them while they’re out. No new projects should start during buffer time. Your employees’ final task before checking out will be to set up their automatic email reply and phone messages.
When they return, they should build in at least half a day to read through emails, catch up on reading and check in with their team on what happened while they were away.
5. Allow employees to disconnect – or not
People generally fall into two categories when it comes to stress over the inevitable email build-up that occurs while they’re out: Those who find it more relaxing to deal with all of their emails once they get back, and those who don’t.
As a leader, you should encourage employees to disconnect as much as possible. However, if employees are overwhelmed by the thought of hundreds of emails, suggest they log in every day or two only to sweep out junk email and non-essential communications. Discourage them from issuing any responses. Otherwise your employees never really disengage and relax. Remind them that the buffer day will be there when they get back.
Arguably, the best way to avoid vacation stress is to hold a company-wide shut down like Adobe, Ford or PwC. After all, emails and decisions can’t build up if everyone is gone at the same time. However, short of a company-wide vacation, planning and communication should be your tools of choice to reduce vacation stress.
One last tip: Research shows that the act of remembering a fun or interesting experience from vacation helps extend the relaxing benefits of that vacation. Help your employees relive what was great about being off by asking about their vacation when they return.
Vacation isn’t the only way to encourage happy, engaged employees. Learn more in our free magazine, The Insperity Guide to Employee Engagement, Issue 1.