Do you know how to take a holiday? Nearly 20 per cent of UK employees don’t, with this number admitting to the recent Health in the Workplace Report that they pack their office laptops and mobiles with their suncream.
This practice reflects badly on organisations, and on the individuals who cannot, literally, switch off from work.
“Failure to take a proper holiday raises questions about the relationships within an organisation”, says Professor of Business Education at York St John Business School, Robert Garvey.
Blurring holiday and work periods leads to ambiguity and confusion among those left in the office and means the ‘holidaymaker’ is unlikely to return refreshed.
On the other hand, professionals who plan their time away could improve relationships within their team, enhance their personal branding and return invigorated.
“As with so many things in life, success should be defined by achieving the right work/life balance”, says Penny de Valk, managing director of Penna’s Talent Practice. “This means taking regular holidays, but also planning ahead to ensure that your team can adequately function without you, and that your company’s customers are not disadvantaged by your absence.”
With these considerations in mind, we asked HR experts how to take a break from work, and make a career-boosting comeback a fortnight later. Here are their five top tips:
Brief colleagues in advance
Psychologist and executive coach Gladeana McMahon advises that holiday preparations start four to six weeks before you leave. “Make sure that everyone knows when you are going to be away”, she says. “Ask people to think about anything they need from you, or you need from them, before you leave. Ensure that you have fully briefed individuals, especially if you are a manager or responsible for a project.”
Holidays can be a time for empowering others. “Think about who can stand in for you while you are away, and ensure that everyone knows,” she says.
“This way the likelihood of something blowing up while you are away, that only you can handle, is significantly reduced,” she says.
At catering giant CH&Co Group, HR director Alison Gilbert looks for a handover pack. “It will help those you are expecting to pick up any of your job role, or outstanding issues, while you are away”, she says, “and it will save time on your return.”
Professor Garvey says that holiday planning is a good opportunity to demonstrate trust in colleagues and to develop others. “Give key people access to your diary,” he says. “Know to whom you can delegate. I found a budget signatory, other than myself, and we have both found this effective for the future.”
“You can use holidays to think about how you work and find out how things can be done differently.”
Indicate your availability
McMahon says that it is best to leave work mobiles at home, and inform that colleagues you have done so. “However, if this is not possible, because of a major project, then limit your access; for example let people know that you’ll check your phone once a day.”
Pre-empt emergencies, adds de Valk. “Define what constitutes an actual emergency, and/or who has permission to contact you, to avoid being, inadvertently, permanently on-call”, she says.
Polish your out-of-office etiquette
Aiming for a digital detox, or planning to read your inbox from the sunbed? However you plan to handle emails make sure that you use out-of-office assistant to best advantage, while appraising colleagues of your decision.
“Whatever you decide about staying in touch with the office--be it intermittent email access, a scheduled call to check in, or going cold turkey -- you should earn the respect of your colleagues for laying out the parameters of engagement,” says de Valk.
McMahon shares the out-of-office message which one senior manager found effective. “Due to the number of emails received, these will be deleted while I am away. If urgent contact [x] ; if you believe that only I can deal with your enquiry, resend your email after [x].” She says that it worked. “And it ensured a manageable inbox on his return.”
Workplace and holiday etiquette are intertwined: do not post embarrassing photos on Facebook, or prop up the hotel bar ranting about your boss. “Six degrees of separation could mean that you are talking to your manager’s next-door neighbour”, warns McMahon.
Work smarter on your return
First-day-back impressions count. “Your approach to your first day back at work is crucial to how your holiday will be perceived by your boss and your team,” says de Valk.
HR director Alison Gilbert ensures that colleagues help the returnee to settle down. “We have a great rule in my team,” she says. “When that team member is on holiday we do not copy them into any emails, but on the last day of their holiday we compile one email to bring them up to speed with what has happened and to bring them back into the business. This also means that they have less emails to tackle on their return.”
Some returnees tackle their inbox before they go into work, adds de Valk. “But if you don’t want to sacrifice time the night before your return, or to go in early on day one, then block out the first 30 minutes or hour of your day and dedicate it to scanning your inbox for urgent items.”
She advises against easing yourself back into work slowly.
“Instead, work smarter by promptly identifying priority issues, and actively engaging in their resolution from the offset,” she says.
Request a brief where appropriate, and spend a short time catching up with associates. “And always thank colleagues for supporting your holiday,” says Professor Garvey.