Too often, managers cringe when they see employees will be out on vacation for a week – who will cover their work, what will get delayed as a result, and what about that important meeting scheduled while they’re gone? But if you really care about building a strong team, you should be actively encouraging employees to book real vacations –not just a day or two here and there, but at least a solid week away, ideally a couple of times a year.
The reason? You want well-rested, refreshed employees, and you’re not going have that if people never get away and truly disconnect. Research shows that employees come back from vacation feeling more creative and more engaged and with increased energy reserves, which means that they expend less energy to get work done than before they left. That’s worth the price of covering for them for a week.
What’s more, when people are away, you’re more likely to spot holes in your system that need to be addressed. You might not realize until Jane is away that she’s the only one who has important passwords, knows the communication preferences of a prickly client, or knows how to update your intranet. Having short breaks like this can highlight where you need to strengthen your systems.
Here are four things every manager can do to make sure their team takes real vacations.
1. First and foremost, lead by example. Your team will take their cues from you. If you’re giving lip service to taking time off but don’t do it yourself, your team is likely to wonder if it’s really okay for them to do it. That means that you need to take vacations yourself, and not talk about how difficult it is to get away.
2. Most of the time when people aren’t taking time off, it’s not because they don’t want to but because their workload is so high that they don’t know how to make it happen. Sit down with people and say, “I want to make sure we find a way for you to get time off this year. Let’s talk through what we can do to ensure that you’re able to take a real vacation some time this year.” Then back that up with action: Find ways to cover their work while they’re gone, and be willing to push back deadlines or other obstacles that make it hard for them to ever get away.
3. Actively encourage people to take time off. If someone has a slow period coming up, point it and out suggest it’s a good time to take some time off. If they haven’t taken time off in a while, point it out and ask what needs to happen for them to be able to get away. (That means that you should periodically run through who hasn’t been away in, say, the last six months.)
4. Create an environment that supports people in taking time away. Treat time off as a normal and expected part of work life, not as a crisis or aberration. Don’t look stricken when someone asks for vacation time, and don’t say things like, “While you’re away, could you call in for just this one important conference call?” Don’t throw last-minute work at people just as they’re about to leave for a week away, and do what you can to ensure that they don’t come back to a week of work in their in-box (which will discourage them from ever going away again).