Is It Time To Take A Break?

After all, the best part of a holiday is perhaps not so much to be resting yourself, as to see all the other fellows busy working – Kenneth Grahame


wooden signboard on tropical beach

I’m going on holiday next week. If you’re one of my friends, or colleagues, you probably can’t wait for me to go – I haven’t shut up about it for weeks. It’s my first holiday in four years. I’m nearly ready to go. I’ve handed over keys, projects, and back-up contact details. I’m writing my out of office message now.

I’m terrified.

Of course, I am looking forward to getting away; but I enjoy my job, and I take pride in the things that I achieve. I enjoy ticking things off of my ‘To Do’ list, and love delivering great customer service, and working closely with my teams and clients. So, of course, I’m scared about what will happen if I jet off abroad, and my colleagues aren’t able to deliver the same level of service. Or, even worse, what if there’s a disaster back here that I need to deal with? Do I trust my team members to handle things in the right way?

I’m thankful, of course, that I do have a wonderful team covering for me, and I know that they’ll be able to handle any curve-ball that might come in their direction whilst I’m topping up my tan. However, it is the moment that every leader dreads: they’re lying back on the sun lounger, about to jump in for a swim, and there’s a crisis back home.

This fear is clearly demonstrated in politics. As the BBC so rightly points out: in a world of 24 hour news political leaders are under public pressure to be back at work in a moments’ notice – many even ditch their holidays and return to work. This doesn’t extend only to politics. Former BP CEO, Tony Hayward, was heavily criticized for going sailing just after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The Institute of Leadership and Management surveyed over 1200 leaders, and uncovered some startling figures:

  • Over half of all managers work whilst they are on annual leave.
  • 71% of leaders feel more stressed in the run up to a holiday; and 17% return from holiday more stressed than when they left.
  • 80% of managers checked their smart phone on holiday.

Should leaders be working on holiday?

This is a tricky balance. On one hand, they need to show that they aren’t chained to their desk; and accept that it is ok to take a break occasionally. They may, however, find that they still need to take the lead if something goes wrong. Timing is critical. Whilst leaders don’t need to be checking their e-mails every day on the beach, they should also not to appear to be dragged back to work “kicking and screaming”.

Will it make a difference?

Overworked leaders need relaxation more than ever, but the existence of mobile phones, cheap wireless internet connection, and 24-hour rolling news means someone can do their job just as well from almost anywhere in the world.

The general media seem to think holidays are a bad thing – remember our politicians being forced to return home? It seems they expect the Prime Minister to be running the country from his BlackBerry. The Training Journal, however, points out that all the research suggests people should be taking breaks. They identify that the opportunity of clearing out clutter and rubbish whilst on holiday is typically under-used. They also identify that, by delegating key responsibilities to their team members and not interfering too much, new leaders can step up and get an experience of running the show; deputies can step up and experience what holding the reins actually feels like. They might surprise you. Even if things do go a little pear shaped, it’s a chance to identify space for personal and professional development.

So, perhaps having no mobile signal can be a blessing?

Aside from your friends back home thanking you for not uploading hundreds of #Holiday #BeachSelfie’s to social media, the chance of an interruption-free holiday might be exactly what leaders need to do, both to recharge their own batteries, and to challenge others to step into their shoes.

This knowledge doesn’t stop the pre-handover stress.

You can plan for your absence, and work on cutting down your holiday related stress levels:

  • Create handover notes about the status of your work or projects, and if you have people reporting to you, give them clear guidelines on tasks they need to complete while you’re away.
  • Tie up any loose ends before you go on leave. Aim not to leave anything half-finished. Even if that means identifying where something won’t be completed until you return.
  • Identify everything likely to require attention in your absence and who will be responsible for each – Brief those who will be acting in your absence and be clear about what their role is. They can probably do more than you think. Then, crucially, let them get on with it!
  • Make sure that you inform your key contacts that you will be away – this will cut down on the number of messages you are sent in your absence.
  • If you are planning to check work e-mails, establish ground rules: only do so once or twice a day, and switch off your laptop or iPhone in between.
  • Set up a detailed out-of-office response for both your e-mail and phone line. Include the dates you’ll be away and a person that can be contacted in your absence.
  • Do not open your e-mail account straight away upon your return – catch-up meetings with team members might be a better alternative, and save you time trawling through e-mails. Remember to appreciate where people have used their initiative and made decisions, even if these weren’t perfect.

With all of these tips in mind, I think I’m ready. There’s a sun-lounger on a Greek beach with my name towel on it. All I need to stress about now, is what factor sun lotion I need, and which bikini’s to pack!

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