When you take a vacation, can you really leave your office behind? Or do you have to take the office with you because you do not have anyone to back you up while you are gone? And do you work overtime to get everything ready to leave on a vacation only to have to answer email several times a day while away? And when you return, do you come back to an overflowing Inbox because no one has handled any emails? And when this happens, are you one of the people who simply deletes all email and hopes that there was nothing important in there? (I’m not a fan of this.) Or, do you choose not to take a vacation at all because the price you pay to leave (and then to return to a mountain of work) feels too high and you would prefer not to go because of it?
Is there a better way? Yes. It’s called back-up.
A 2014 Glassdoor survey of 2,300 employees found that they take only 51% of their paid time off and 61% do work while on vacation. 33% don’t take vacations because they think no one can do their work.
My less scientific survey of executive and personal assistants in our workshops confirms that the majority feel that vacations are extremely difficult to take (or enjoy) because they have no back-up.
In our complicated and fast-moving 24/7 workplace of 2015, it is a challenge to keep up with work even when you are in the office all day, every day. Because of the way you are working, the data shows that you need to take vacations to stay healthy, and the best kind are the ones when you can truly disconnect from work. This means having back-up while you are away.
Also, besides vacations, what if you catch the flu and can’t work? Or you have a family emergency that requires you not being available? Or what if you get hit by the proverbial bus tomorrow? Would your office fall apart and come to a grinding halt, or be just fine… or somewhere in between?
If any of these questions resonate, here are several ideas to alleviate these all-too-common workplace issues. The test of effective managers and a well-run office is that when a key staffer suddenly cannot be there, the office is able to run fine. Not perfectly, of course, but fine. No one person should be indispensable. In fact, it is irresponsible to have this be the case. A back-up system is imperative to allow for the what-ifs, also known as life.
Not having back-up systems in place leaves a company vulnerable and also contributes to higher stress levels and burned-out staffers who do not feel supported to take time off to re-energize.
Here are 5 ways to get the back-up you need (and your team will love you for it):
1 Be proactive: Months before your planned vacation (or surgery, etc.), discuss a back-up plan with your manager. Be prepared with several ideas about who can do what responsibilities while you are away. Create a document that contains a complete and thorough list of tasks. If your department does not have an Employee Procedures Manual, now is the ideal time to create one. Driving this project will not only bring added value to your role, but will begin the process of allowing staffers to truly be able to be away with peace of mind.
2 Cross-training is not only for athletes: Once it is decided who will be taking on your responsibilities, plan adequate time for your back-up colleague to spend time with you at your desk and with your manager. Your goal is to have you and your manager feel confident that your back-up can be depended upon to get the job done. The better prepared your back-up is, the easier it will be for you to relax while away.
3 Turnover – before and after: Meet with your back-up before and after time away. Keep notes for the next time so you will remember what went well and what fell through the cracks.
4 Avoid the email avalanche upon re-entry: Spend time showing your Inbox to your back-up so that she/he can act on your behalf. Doing this will ensure that you will need to be interrupted only for true and unforeseen emergencies.
5 Organize special meetings: Discuss back-up systems for all staff members. Seek participation and input from all employees. After all, who knows better than the staff about who could do their job?