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Capture the Benefits of Time Off for You and Your Team

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Time off—even a few days—benefits you in so many ways:

  • Improves relationships: Continuous work interferes with human connections, especially with the family and friends we rely on for emotional support.
  • Reduces stress: The American Psychological Association notes several small studies that have associated vacations as short as three days with stress reduction, including a decrease in the hormone cortisol.
  • Improves health. One study found that men who avoid vacations for several years are 30% more likely to experience heart attacks.
  • Increases productivity. A break lets you regroup and refresh your abilities—both to tackle mundane tasks and to gain those new perspectives that foster creativity. Focus and concentration require breaks.
  • Builds your team. How will your team ever advance in leadership skills, accountability, and performance management if you never provide an opportunity?
  • Helps your chances of advancement. This benefit may sound counterintuitive, but researchers have found that people who take vacations are more likely to get a raise (37% compared to 31%) and be promoted (84% compared to 78%).

The keys to successfully taking time off are employing SMaRT strategies to prepare for your departure and return and to set boundaries during your time off. You’ll also have a better vacation if you know your company’s vacation policies.

TIP: If someone on your team refuses to take vacations, step in. They are setting themselves up for burnout and are likely to leave the company when they reach their limit.


Prepare for Your Departure and Return

If you have been using SMaRT time management strategies to schedule your day, then scheduling your vacation should be easy. When you know what is likely to come up, you can prepare your team and arrange for backup. The following steps will help you prepare:

  • Strategize your schedule by acting as if you are leaving a day early and arriving a day later. That gives you a day to handle any last-minute “crises” that arise and to ease back into work the day you arrive.
  • Deploy your team, letting them know what is likely to come up, what you expect them to handle, and how out of reach you will be. Make sure vendors, consultants, and other business associates know what you expect them to do while you are gone. Do not give your contact information to everyone and encourage them to call you about everything. You are on vacation, not working remotely.
  • Make a checklist of items for your return. For example, list any deadlines or meetings with customers that are imminent after your return. Schedule an after-return meeting with your team (together or individually) so that they can catch you up. The objective of the list is to clear those items from your mind for the duration of your vacation—not to give  you tasks to complete during vacation.
  • Consult with your most important clients and customers. Find out if they have any upcoming deadlines or requirements so you can alert your team and tell your clients/customers whom to contact with questions. If  you can, tell them that you are leaving a day earlier and arriving a day later than actually planned—or at least give them a few weeks’ notice (and a reminder) that you will not be available.
  • Clear your desk. If you can return to a desk that’s ready for work, you will feel better on your return. Set up an automatic reply for emails that tells people whom to contact if they need immediate assistance. Change the message on your voicemail to indicate exactly how long you will be out of the office and, again, whom callers should contact in your absence.
  • Update your calendar. Now that you have delegated to your team, moved low priority items to after your return, and taken note of upcoming deadlines and meetings, make sure you haven’t created a single back-to-work day that takes 72 hours to complete. Experts vary on whether it’s better to clear the morning of your return so that you can ease into work or to exploit your revived energy and jump right into your biggest project. You’ll know which suits you best.

TIP: Anxiety over leaving work slows you down and lowers your productivity in the days before you leave. Remember: this vacation will renew your energies and make you a more productive, energetic, and creative employee.


Set Boundaries

The trouble with taking vacation and never shutting off technology is that you never really get away.  Your team sends emails to your plane, texts you while you lay on the beach, and shares information as you connect remotely into your server.  The purpose of taking time off is to decompress and reset, which is difficult to do when you’re consistently bombarded with work contacts.

Here are some strategies that will empower you and put you in control of your time off:

  • Define “emergency.” Make it very clear that at no time are you to be contacted unless for a true emergency: fire or destruction, theft, legal issues, etc.
  • Establish limits. If you do need to stay in contact, tell your team and boss that you will only check emails or phone messages once a day—then lock away your phone and computer. Take a vacation from technology as well as work.
  • Practice relaxation. If you have forgotten how to relax, now is the time to access your SMaRT mindfulness tools, including relaxation, gratitude, and visualization. This is your time to develop a habit of happiness.


Support Vacations for Your Team and Yourself

According to a survey by recruitment agency Robert Half, only 9% of managers and employers discourage vacation time. Unfortunately, only 25% of managers and employers encourage vacation time. You have to take responsibility for your own health—and your team’s. How might you yourself be interfering with your team’s ability to take vacation?

  • Creating a complicated procedure for requesting vacation
  • Confining the period when vacations can be taken to a narrow stretch of time
  • Constantly asking people to reschedule until later—but “later” never comes
  • Expecting the vacationing person to answer endless emails and phone messages or insisting they join a video conference
  • Making negative comments to others about a person’s absence
  • Piling on work immediately on a person’s return so they have no chance to ease back
  • Refusing to take your own vacation or to delegate even minor decisions when you are away.

If you find yourself under similar pressures from your own boss, you might try these techniques:

  • Vacation where you can’t be reached. Believe it or not, there are still plenty of places where email doesn’t work and cell coverage is spotty at best.
  • Say you’ll be vacationing where you can’t be reached. Okay, technically it is lying, but if you turn off your devices, you will not only have a better vacation but a genuine unreachability.
  • Ask the reason for the denial. Maybe you can work something out.
  • Go to Human Resources. Ask for clarification of the vacation policy, the amount of vacation due to you, and any rules you may have overlooked.

Vacations are too important for your physical and mental health and the advantages to you and the company are so striking that you should consider the attitude toward vacations one of the prime reasons to accept or reject a job offer—or to start looking for a change.

TIP: The few companies that offer unlimited vacation time are finding it has both pros (happier employees, easier recruitment, lower HR costs) and cons (a competition to not use vacation days, the inability to use vacation as a reward—more days the longer you stay). But the trend is on the upswing.

Key Takeaways

Vacations benefit employees and companies. When you or your team take vacations, you decompress, rev up your creativity, expand your thinking, connect with the people important to you, and actually increase your productivity and chances for advancement when you return.

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