Posted by Sandy Yu on 5.30.2019
Summer vacation time is upon us. It should be a time of relaxation and rejuvenation. For many employees, though, it’s much more complex than this. Taking a vacation is associated with feelings of catching-up at work, communication-related stress, and even fear of being judged for using their hard-earned time off.
Most leaders aren’t strangers to the stress of vacation. They’ve been there, and many are working hard to end the unhealthy cycle. The good news is, simple encouragement is helping a large portion of employees, according to a recent U.S. Travel Association report. An impressive 68 percent reported being much happier with their jobs when their company encourages vacation than those who work where vacation is either discouraged or managers are ambivalent about taking time off (42 percent).
Unfortunately, 62 percent of respondents also say their company discourages time off, sends mixed messages, or says nothing at all about vacation. This doesn’t just create an issue of employees being afraid to take vacation days, it also inhibits effective internal communications while employees are out of the office.
This fine line of communication during vacation can't be ignored. Especially in a time of such technological connectedness, it’s crucial leaders put their plans and expectations out in the open.
Here’s how three leaders are already successfully doing just that:
Managers and leaders don't always recognize the gravity of an off-hours email or text. They may see it as an item that can be addressed later, but employees see all messages from leadership through an urgent lens. Even messages that clearly indicate a non-urgent nature, employees may still see as urgent.
Work communication can be subliminally handled as a whack-a-mole type of stimuli. In a connected society even automated messages or messaging can elicit a psychological response.
Employees commonly dread that first peek at emails after disconnecting for a few days. Managers can minimize bombs by having a predetermined strategy for decision making and problem-solving in the absence of an employee.
Boundaries for vacation communication should be written, not just understood. Some companies, for example, are beginning to gate certain types of communication during specific hours and have scheduled blackout times to prevent exposure burnout and communication abuse.
Here at Fueled, an app development and design agency, product development takes a minimum of three to six months to complete. You can imagine how difficult it is when an employee takes a vacation during this time and even more difficult when multiple employees take a vacation at the same time.
The biggest challenges we face are lack of communication with clients about the vacation. This leads to unresponded emails when the employee is out of touch, overworked team members working too many hours, and a lack of communication around tasks that need completed when team members are out.
To combat these challenges, we're putting more structure in place to create smoother transitions. Every week, our department heads meet to discuss resourcing, project assignments, and upcoming vacations. We encourage employees to submit vacation hours as soon as they book to help them plan during these meetings in advance.
A common challenge arises when there is an emergency and only a specific employee knows how to resolve the issue. If there’s no official agreement detailing how such emergencies should be dealt with while employees are on vacation, there is bound to be a conflict if the employee refuses to respond to any work-related requests.
This makes it important for managers to have a clear internal communications policy. One that sets mutual expectations to avoid any interruption of business during vacation while allowing employees to enjoy their time off.
I set expectations about what, when, and how to communicate with employees before they step out for vacation. We agree on the best way to reach them in case of an emergency. Then, the number of times a day they should check their messages for updates and the type of scenarios that constitute an emergency.
During non-vacation workdays, email is the main mode of communication. However, during summer months, I’ve found that most employees prefer a quick text message.
By having such an internal communications strategy in place, I feel at ease that business will go on as usual. Additionally, employees can enjoy their vacation without fear of unwanted surprises while they’re away.