By Anja van den Berg
Have you ever wondered whether taking time off is worth the stress of preparing for a vacation?
If so, you’re not alone. Research shows that a notable number of employees leave some annual leave time on the table. Some of the reasons for the lack of holidays include feeling that their workload is too heavy or that no-one could stand in for them while they are gone.
As a time management coach, Elizabeth Grace Saunders says that pre-vacation work stress typically falls into two categories:
- Stress about finding time to complete tasks before departure, and
- Stress while being away from the office.
Both categories can trigger guilt and even fear, says Saunders. Many employees worry that if they’re not available at the ready, something disastrous will happen at work.
Thoughts like, ‘What if, once I’m out, someone notices I haven’t made progress on a project?’, ‘What if something falls through the cracks?’ or ‘What if a client needs me?’ might run through your head.
These fears can stop some people from taking vacation entirely, says Saunders. For others, it could increase the strain – which a holiday is supposed to negate – when they attempt to get all their extra work done before they leave. Some even continue working throughout their vacation.
In all these cases, you will find yourself overstressed and sleep-deprived. Even worse, you could end up resentful for being physically away but mentally still at work.
It’s acceptable to delegate or delay projects, Saunders underlines. She recommends the following strategies to set yourself up for success once you return:
- Distinguish priority projects from nice-to-do outputs.
If you intend to take a week or more out of the office, schedule a meeting with yourself for three to four weeks before your departure date. Planning time weeks before you leave allows you to honestly assess your workload while you still have time to move some things around and prioritise. Get clarity on must-do projects versus would-like-to-do-before-you-leave outputs. Block out time on your calendar to complete the must-do items.
- Partner with peers
No matter how well prepared you are, some items will likely need attention while you’re gone. Approach a colleague to take on some tasks on your behalf so you can have some real time off. Reach out to a co-worker a week (or more) in advance to discuss what you will need, such as taking care of a specific responsibility or keeping an eye on particular projects. If necessary, do quick email introductions between your stand-in and those involved in the work so that there’s a definite handoff. Remember to offer to return the favour when your colleagues are planning their leave.
- Be clear on what you will not deliver before you leave.
Once you’ve figured out what you will do before leaving on vacation and what your co-workers can handle while you’re away, clarify what you will not do until you return. Be realistic about what you can reasonably accomplish and relay this information to your manager, teammates and clients. Although it might be an uncomfortable conversation, it’s best to be upfront and to manage expectations. Above all else, it will help avoid having to deal with a mid-vacation crisis caused by a lack of communication.
Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2018/08/how-to-take-the-stress-out-of-taking-time-off