Office Etiquette is a weekly column focusing on the do’s and dont’s of office behavior. A well-respected workplace reputation should be a goal for everyone.
Americans are known for their hard work and ambition, yet are also known for their inability to relax and take vacation days. According to a 2007 survey by employment firm Hudson, more than half of American workers fail to take all their vacation days. And when they do, their work travels with them via BlackBerrys, iPhones and laptops. So next time you’re feeling frazzled at the thought of leaving the office for a few days, follow these rules to smooth the transition from work to play:
Work longer hours. Working overtime before you leave may seem to defeat the purpose of a vacation, but I prefer it over worrying about work while I’m lying on the beach. Working longer hours to accomplish tasks will give you peace of mind before your trip. I like to go in early rather than stay late. That way, my mind is fresh and there are fewer distractions in the office.
Make a vacation folder. If you are a manager, you should also inform your team of their responsibilities while you’re away. Consider making a folder that answers questions employees may have during your vacation. The folder should also include important contact information. When I worked at a newspaper, I would leave a folder that explained where the staff could find certain stories or photos on the server. This is particularly important if you’re out of the country and have limited access to e-mail and phone.
Don’t feel guilty. In most countries, vacations are encouraged. But we work in America, where employees who use all their vacation time are considered lazy and disruptive to the company’s workflow. Um, please. If you’re a hard worker, there is no reason to feel guilty about using vacation days that are rightfully yours. Plus, you’re really only hurting yourself and the company by not taking a break. A 2001 study by the Families and Work Institute found that employees who failed to take all their vacation time felt overworked, were more likely to make mistakes on the job, were angry and resentful toward employees, and took more unscheduled absences including fake sick days.
Use your Smartphone sparingly. Avoid taking your BlackBerry to the beach or on that bus tour of Italy. Otherwise, you’re going to A) annoy the people on the trip with you, and B) never get a chance to relax, which is the entire point of a vacation. During my vacation in Jamaica, I only turned my phone on about two minutes a day to make sure there were no emergencies back home – and let me tell you, it felt amazing to be free from technology.
Use the “out-of-office” setting. Don’t forget to activate your “out-of-office” e-mail reply and include a contact number for immediate assistance. Make sure your contact is a trusted and responsible employee. Do the same for your voicemail, and inform the secretary that you will be out in case anyone calls the main line.
Delegate a trusted coworker. At my old job, I was responsible for checking the news e-mail account (different than my personal account), which received about 300 messages a day that were 75% junk mail. Rather than wait to check the messages until I returned, I asked a trusted coworker if she would mind checking the account in my absence. In return, I would help her out next time she was on vacation. Just be sure you choose a capable employee, should you grant someone access to checking messages or handling a project.
Prepare to work hard when you return. Ah, if only vacations could last forever. Mentally prepare yourself the night before your return. Make a quick list of tasks you must accomplish on the first day back, and consider arriving early to catch up on e-mails, voice messages and projects.