It's the time of year when people start to talk about vacations. For too many of us, all we do is talk. Fifty-five percent of Americans do not use all their vacation time (and those of you in civilized countries feel free to smirk and berate us. We deserve it). In fact, we collectively leave 768 million vacation days unused!
That's not the worst of it. Even when we do take the time and plan something fun or relaxing, 82% of Americans say they work while on vacation. A staggering (not surprising, just staggering) 90% say they check emails and messages while allegedly away from work.
When we ask people why that is, the answers range from "It's expected," to "I'm afraid of how much work I'll come back to if I don't," to "I don't want to let my team down." The good news is that you can take your time without disappointing your teammates. It's better than even money they are far more willing to help than you think.
Why don't we ask for help?
Especially when we work remotely, we don't always have an accurate picture of how busy people are, or how much they're willing to help you out. A lot of remote and hybrid team members say they don't ask for assistance as much when they work remotely than they do/did in the office.
One of the best things members of a team can do is help each other take the time they need to recharge their batteries and come back better contributors and teammates.
Unused vacation time is a crisis
If it helps, think of it the same way we act in a time of crisis or when people have a personal emergency. People handle your customers or tasks, often unquestioningly, until you return. Unused vacation time and burnt out teammates is an emergency of sorts, so here's how a good team handles your absence.
If you want to be seen as a great long-distance teammate, you should ask two questions when you know someone is taking time off:
- Where are you going/what are you doing?
- How can I help?
Here's how you can be a great teammate
When others offer, it takes some of the guilt out of asking for help. It also presumes reciprocity - that you'll do the same thing for them when it's their turn to escape and reboot. In practical terms, here's what that assistance looks like:
- Define the tasks should be done while you're gone. Some of these are obvious, such as customer service complaints or time-sensitive reports or deadlines.
- Divide your tasks and duties between "Must be done," "should be done" and "it can wait." Be honest with yourself.
- Identify the people willing to help, and then think about who should perform which tasks. It is far easier to accept help when you don't feel like everything is falling on one person. Maybe customer calls should go to Alice, but the administrative tasks can get picked up by Bob.
- Assign the tasks to the people responsible. Take time to talk to them about any information they require, or expectations of the job. The more clear they are, the less you'll stress about them when you should be riding a banana boat.
- Automate as much of the work as possible. Make sure people have access to the files they'll need and can update data bases, SalesForce, or other applications.
- Ask them to make good, clear notes so that your re-entry isn't too stressful.
- Use your out of office and status updates to help set customer and co-worker expectations. Let them know when you're leaving, when you plan to return, and where to go for help in the meantime if it's really important. This goes for both your internal and external email.
- Block out your calendar, and put relevant information such as who will be attending that meeting in your place in there so people will see it.
- Disable announcements and notifications on your personal devices. You aren't removing outlook from your phone, just making sure you don't see a growing number of waiting messages every time you pick it up. You can still check messages if you really can't help it, but you will feel far less psychological pressure to do so.
- Teams and Slack can be put on Halt Notifications. Get used to doing that.
- Create folders and rules for email, so that your main inbox won't have swollen to gigantic proportions.
- Hold each other accountable. If you are online when you should be at the tiki bar, your coworkers should have permission to gently persuade you to log off. They got this.
- Be prepared to do the same for them.
- Ask your manager to help people be accountable. They should also pledge not to interrupt your vacation. Get them to pinky-swear it.
Taking time off helps the whole team
We at the Kevin Eikenberry Group are lucky. When we announce that we are taking time, the first thing our colleagues ask is what can they do and how can they help. We also have a leader who encourages us to take time, and is good about not communicating while we're away (how well he does that himself is an open question, but it is clearly different when you are the owner of the company).
It's a funny thing. Our colleagues may not take their vacation time, or relax like they should, but most of them are really good about trying to help us do it. When we support each other and work to help lower the stress of taking time off (an irony if ever there was one), team morale improves.
When the whole team is conscious about time off and helps each other be accountable for shouldering the burden in people's absence, there is a greater likelihood people will actually take vacation time and take it seriously.
It's not like there's nothing in them for helping. Rested coworkers make better colleagues and teammates. So take your time, help others when it's their turn. Having each other's backs is what teamwork is all about.