Welcome to August,
This year is flying past and it finally looks like we're due to get that heatwave they're always promising. Hopefully you've all got your sunscreen ready and ice creams in the freezer!
So, everything has settled down post Brexit. None us know for sure what the plan is for two years’ time, but everyone I have spoken to has a ‘let’s just carry on’ attitude – which is great to see. A lot of the businesses we work with are busier than ever at the moment.
How are you coping with the holiday season? I’ve had two weeks away and lots of my team, who have children, are working hard juggling time away, school holidays and working. It can be quite a stressful time for those of us with school aged children. It’s quite a balancing act.
Although, having said that, taking time away from work for anyone can be a stressful time. There’s the big push before you go away to get as much done as possible. There’s the handover notes and emails to clients and suppliers to let them know you’ll be away and who they can contact. Then there’s the worry in the back of your mind when you are away and the constant temptation to quickly check your emails. Then when you’re back, it’s usually crazy busy catching up and getting on top of everything again. Your lovely relaxing holiday quickly seems like a lifetime ago.
What’s your strategy for annual leave? Do you check your emails when you’re away? Do you phone the office to make sure everything is okay? Do you take work with you? Do you find it better to keep in touch or are you happy to just let go and relax?
I guess everyone is different. Research has proven that taking annual leave and switch off from the office can boost your mental ability and passion for your job. So as employers we should be encouraging ourselves and our teams to use their leave. Even if you’re not planning any trips, time away from the work environment is good for us all.
I have read loads of articles recently about how best to alleviate holiday stress and here are the top 10 tips I have found to live by:
1. Choose a good time to holiday
This can be tricky, but if you are able to be flexible and you’re really worried about leaving the office, choose a time when your business is usually at its quietest or you have a cross over or lull period in your projects. This might help to ease your stress in leaving everything for a few days. If this still fills you with dread, maybe opt for a long weekend break instead.
2. Plan, plan, plan
You’ll usually know quite far in advance when your holiday is going to be, so set out a 4-week schedule for getting as much as possible completed before you leave. Try, where possible, to set any client or customer deadlines as far away from your leave dates as you can to help ease the stress.
3. Start the ball rolling early
A great tip is to add a little message to all your emails about when you will be away. If you do this a month or even a few weeks before you go, it won’t come as a surprise to anyone. The message will need to sit apart from your usual email footer so people don’t miss seeing it.
4. Set expectations
As part of your planning, it is great practice to drop your regular contacts/clients/customers, a little email to set their expectations; what you’ve completed for them before you go away, what will happen or who they can contact when you’re away, and what they will receive once you’re back.
If you do this a couple of days before you leave, they can ask any questions or raise any concerns with you directly. You can also ‘cc’ the contact person who will be holding the fort whilst you’re away. This way, nobody should get any little surprises.
5. Write your return ‘action list’
When you get back to work it can take a few days to get back into the swing of things, especially if you’ve had a few weeks off. If you write your ‘to do list’ for when you get back, before you leave, when you do get back it will help to focus your efforts quicker and you’ll be much more productive in those first few days back in the office.
6. Premature handover
We’ve all been there, we know we need to do a comprehensive handover with a colleague before we leave but you run out of time and it gets done in the 5 minutes you’re walking together across the car park as you leave.
My main advice to help avoid this is to start writing your handover notes really, really early and schedule a formal meeting to go through them a couple of days before you leave.
I start ‘jotting’ bits down in a Word document a few weeks before I go on leave. I list all the projects I’ve got on as bold titles, and then I write a quick summary of what it is and any useful background information. I then start to add bullet points below each one about where I am with them; actions, to do lists etc.
Doing this makes it much easier to pull together the final version of your handover because you’ve been working from it as you’ve gone along. You can also add links to folders and emails to help whoever you’re handing over to.
7. Set your ‘out of office’
This can be the most exciting, or the most verve wracking bit. Always put on an ‘out of office’ automatic reply on your emails stating that you are on annual leave and when you will return to the office. You need to give the name, email address and phone number of one of your colleagues who they can contact for all urgent matters. It is also worth saying if your emails are being forwarded and checked or not. Some people will presume that they are and won’t send another message.
It’s also worth checking when your out of office auto replies will be sent to people. Some email systems only send them out for external emails and some for the first email from one contact. Ideally, you need your auto replies set up for ALL internal and external emails for the duration of your holiday.
I also set mine so the auto reply expires on the day I return to the office so I don’t forget to turn it off.
8. Designated ‘work time’
If you will have to check your emails or make some phone calls when you’re away, it’s good to set some parameters around it. Maybe there will be one hour every other day that you can dip into work. Maybe your main contact back at the office knows this plan, so if there is an emergency, there is a window of time that they know they can contact you without disturbing you too much. Outside of these times, try and switch your work phone/laptop off.
You’ve earned this holiday. You are obviously dedicated and passionate about your work, but you know what they say about being ‘all work and no play’. Everyone needs a break from their job so if you do this you will come back refreshed and will work a lot more efficiently and happily when you return.
10. Ease back in
I always use my first morning back in the office to speak to everyone and hear about what has been happening. I also have a formal catch up with the person who was handling my workload whilst I was away. And then in the afternoon I start going through all my emails. There is a tendency to check through your emails straight away, but I think this is a mistake as it’s easy to get stressed out about something you read that could have been easily explained by firstly chatting to a colleague face to face.
I know all of this can sometimes be easier said than done, but even if you use a few of the points it can help you have a more relaxing holiday.
I’d be interested to hear some of your coping strategies for managing annual leave.
I hope you have a wonderful August and a stress free holiday period.
I’ll be back in touch in September.