What did I do on my summer vacation?
Well, I can tell you what I didn’t do: work. I didn’t answer emails. I didn’t check Slack. I didn’t even open my laptop. I understood the assignment.
“Taking vacation time is essential to employee survival. That’s because time off from work is integral to well-being, sustained productivity and high performance.” – Forbes 2021
Vacation time is good for us, our mental health, and our companies from a productivity perspective. The problem is that a lot of folks don’t take their time off, or if they do, they don’t do it well. A recent study by Qualitrics found that 49 percent of employed Americans admitted to working for an hour or more a day while on vacation, and around 25 percent work more than three hours each day they’re on paid time off.
I take my vacation. I’ve taken my vacation (yes, all of it) every year that I’ve been in the working world. It took some time before I was able to fully disconnect from work while trying to enjoy my time off, with some years being better than others. This year, my first at Beauty for All, I decided I would set a new standard for myself. I would make fully disconnecting during my time off my new normal.
I know you’re asking yourself, “How did he do it?” Well, I’m glad you asked because I’m totally going to tell you.
Find your backup. From the most junior member of the team to the most senior executive, everyone needs a backup. That is, someone identified and entrusted to cover your usual duties for you when you’re not in the office. And it’s not enough to just put a name down; it’s the responsibility of the primary employee—you—to make sure that your backup is trained, has the right access and permissions to carry out certain responsibilities, and feels comfortable covering the usual tasks that would take place. The primary employee should also meet with their backup at least a day or two before the break to make sure everything will be covered, or to go over any questions. Wanna go one better? Create an out-of-office document (with links) for them to follow. Spell it out for them. Help them help you.
Prepare, prepare, and then prepare some more. Don’t surprise your team when you take your vacation. Block out your calendar in advance and update the PTO calendar.
Wait—you don’t have a PTO calendar? Well, you should. It can be a shared calendar or a document that everyone has access to with permission to read and edit. Our awesome EAs maintain ours and help keep us accountable for updating it. Make sure you share with your team that you’ll be out early enough so that everyone has time to prepare (team meetings, standups, etc.). Get your backups filled in ahead of time so that they’re ready. Remind everyone a week or two before that you’ll be out and ask if there’s anything they need before you go. Remind them of your delegation chart.
Have a delegation chart. Maybe you need more than one backup. Maybe you have a larger team with more functional responsibilities. Maybe you are a more senior leader. A delegation chart is a critical leadership tool to ensure it’s business as usual, and it also organizes vacation times. A delegation chart is just an easily accessible document that lists the responsibilities you cover and all the people who are empowered to carry them out on your behalf. Having this chart ensures that no single individual within a company becomes a bottleneck to productivity. It also creates a sense of accountability for those who have been delegated with backup duties—they, too, are a crucial part of the company’s ability to run smoothly. This is a great way to give more junior members of the team some skill-building and executive-thinking duties—after all, they get to call the shots when you’re unavailable.
To have a good vacation, give a good vacation. Be someone’s backup. Be on someone’s delegation chart. Make sure nothing comes to them when they are out of the office. The greatest compliment I’ve ever received as a leader was when my executive came back from her two weeks of vacation and said nothing had come to her while she was gone. The other executives and I had handled it all without so much as a hitch. This ensured that when I was ready for my vacation, my peers would also have my back as they know I would theirs.
Notifications are evil. Turn them off. Period. Email, Slack, texts, and whatever else—just turn off your notifications. Even with the best of intentions, a poorly timed notification can lead to you saying, “I’ll just respond to this one,” which leads to a few more responses, which then leads to you going back into work mode and shaving off precious PTO that you’ll never get back. That you rightfully earned. That you and everyone need for the betterment of the company. It will pull you out of being present during your allotted time off to specifically do so.
These tools can be used all year, not just for summer vacation, but for whenever you need to take some time for a breather—planned or not. It ensures work still gets done, colleagues are less stressed when you’re out of office, and, most importantly, that you get to take the time you deserve to fully recharge.
So what did you do on your summer vacation?