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I still remember my last vacation – it was a weeklong engagement devoid of meetings, Slack or any emails. My automated email response was active and I was completely offline. It was a delightful feeling and when I came back to work, I was much more refreshed and rested as well as re-energised and refocused with new ideas. The mini vacation played a vital role in recharging me to take bigger challenges at work.
It is alarming to see that each year, fewer people in countries like the USA and the UK are taking vacations. This is due to an increasing number of employees at companies feeling pressure from their employers to not take time away from their jobs. This spells bad news for our companies, our employees and our customers. With summer fast approaching, in this blog post, I will be talking about how you can be a strong leader at your company by ensuring that your team gets the break that they deserve.
It Has To Start From the Top
There is a high likelihood that none of your employees will take vacations if your executive team and higher management hardly takes one themselves. Having your leadership be in office 365 days a year is a dangerous precedent to fix. While some newer managers might find it difficult to set a tone on vacations, it is a responsibility of the older managers and the human resource team to put a practice of allowing vacations to team members in cycles. What I mean is that you need to have life priorities like spending time with family or out of work as part of the monthly management meetings on revenue and growth goals. If your higher management fails avail these vacations, there is a chance that your employees will remain reluctant to ask for one. It is important to make vacations a corporate priority and not a personal one.
Follow the KISS Rule
Just have a look at the entire process of applying for a vacation at your office – how many shared calendars, permission slips and management authorizations does it take for an individual at your office to get time off? If the answer is more than three then I feel that you have a problem on your hands. Do not make your employees go through a tedious process that you as an individual would never like to be a part of. Follow the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) Rule and simplify the entire process, empowering line managers to encourage time away, ensuring that the entire process is clear and simple and is provided as part of the new hire on-boarding process. Iron out any extraneous rules and regulations so that your employees can spend more time on planning the vacation and less time on anxiously waiting for approval on their leave applications.
Make Vacations a Core Benefit
If you want the best out of your employees, you need to give them the autonomy to build their careers around their lives and not vice versa. Some of the most sought after organisations offer good amount of vacations as well as stipends after certain years of service to ensure that their employees get the chance to visit somewhere they always wanted to go. You might also want to give a company-wide holiday, one day each month, for your teams to recharge. It is important to mention time away from work and good vacation policies as part of your company culture, as it will attract new candidates. Making it a core benefit will guarantee that the management takes it seriously and works toward making it a reality at your office.
Stop Rewarding Availability Champions
Your leadership will be in conflict of you keep saying that you support employees taking vacations but at the same time reward and promote people who work overtime and on weekends and hardly ever take any time out of office, creating a cultural paradox. If you send a message that taking a break means that you are compromising your promotion then chances are that your employees will rather avoid them. You should avoid sending mixed messages on what it really means to be successful, because promoting people who respond to your emails in real-time will mean that you award face time heroics, and not people who lead a well-balanced life. If an employee spends too much time at work, s/he needs to be forced to get some time off because overworked employees re just time ticking bombs, waiting to cause a major blunder.
Give Breaks without Losing Momentum
Giving your teams time off can help them operate at maximum efficiency. It has been seen that many offices slow down during the summer. The reasons behind this is that many employees are distracted by the good weather outside, making them want to take a break. It might also be that those employees who are parents have their kids taking summer vacations from their schools, making them want to spend more time with family. Now I understand that you cannot simply give everyone at your office time off during summers, so how do you keep your teams staying back motivated and free from the lazy summer distractions? Below are some ways in which you can give your team a break without losing the all-important momentum at the workplace:
- Breaks for a Boost. Brains need to get breaks to be productive. Various researches have shown that short rests lead to a boost in productivity. Employees who fail to get a quick, refreshing break usually see a dip in their productivity. No wonder companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon have offices full of spaces where employees can take power naps.
- Have a Culture of Balance. Expect the most from your employees when they are at work. However, you cannot expect your employees to work at a constantly optimal level without any breaks. While most people will be fine with handling intense periods of work, there will come a time when their brain will wear out. You can think of it as working out; breaks are not there to make your employees lazy. In fact, they are there to strengthen them physically and mentally.
- Time off Means “TIME OFF”. Make sure that you mean it when you say that your employees are off. It is not really a break if they are required to respond to emergencies or have to check their emails at least once a day. In fact, you should discourage your employees from checking their emails at all. This kind of “true” time off will recharge them to get back to their optimum best when they come back. Making them work during their vacation will mean that they did not really have any vacation at all.
- Promote Cross Trainings. It is essential for your company to promote cross training to ensure that you have a plan B at all times. There needs to be someone who can cover for an employee in his/her absence. Cross training strengthens businesses and allows employees to stay engaged in learning new skills, helping their professional development. It also ensures that you will not be annoying employees on break.
- Encourage Teamwork. You should create a culture at your company, where everyone coordinates vacation schedules. It is a good idea to maintain and share a Google calendar for everyone to see when people want to take time off. This way, everyone can plan accordingly and not just have a boss making all the calls by himself/herself.
- Cut Back Whenever You Can. It might be that you do not have much business after Friday afternoons, signalling that your employees might be better off having a break for the rest of the day. You might want to reduce the working hours during summers to improve the overall productivity of the team. This is up to you, but try to cut back on having people come to office wherever and whenever you can.
- Consider the Home-Related Challenges. Sometimes, your employees are having to deal a lot more outside the office during summers. This can include childcare when there is no school or managing home alone kids. It might be that your employee’s spouse or partner has a job that ramps up in the summer season, such as transportation or construction, disturbing his or her own schedule. You should be able to find resources that can help such busy families.
- Dig a Little Deeper. If any of your employees still keep demonstrating a drop in productivity then there might be a deeper, underlying problem, such as a bad line manager. Try to look for answers to questions like “Are your employees getting bored?” “Do they want a new challenge?”etc. So if an employee takes a long break and comes back disengaged, it is time for you to have a one-to-one talk with him/her.
Do you have any suggestions of your own? Share your thoughts with me in the comments section below. You might also find this blog post on how you can be the best boss.