Vacation – It’s that thing where employees theoretically get time away from work and where supervisors freak out about what could possibly be missed.
If reading that seems semi-accurate, it’s a sad reflection on how work-life balance has evolved.
While companies have been producing employee handbooks for decades, the focus has been on what the employee can or cannot do. Rarely do you ever see the employer equivalent. The standard language that does appear regarding employer conduct will revolve around items that are codified into federal law (i.e. required to do), such as pay overtime for hourly workers, FMLA (for employers above the 50 person threshold) and non-discrimination.
It is very rare for an employer to document an equal set of standards with specificity. Let’s look at some language regarding vacation:
“Vacations are to be scheduled and approved”
“Vacations are expected to be taken annually”
How many places do you think you would see this written?
“The employer will be prohibited from disturbing the employee while on vacation.”
Well, there are some places that have embraced this. In 2014, Daimler instituted a policy where emails sent to employees on vacation were automatically deleted, while notifying the sender. More recently, a new law was passed in France at the start of the year, that is being referred to as the “Right to Disconnect.”
A change in mindset is really all that is required to be more friendly and balanced to employees. The employee is a person, the employer should try to reciprocate by being human as well.
Purpose of vacation
I cannot list all of the reasons people take vacations, or time off from work, but I do know one thing, it almost always involves doing anything that does not relate to their job. If you are taking time off, but not getting away, then you do not come back refreshed. Even worse, you may be disgruntled, which may make the situation even worse, and is costly for employers. On top of that, you are now inundated with emails.
So, what expertise do I have in this area? I have had more than one vacation interrupted by work, while I have had others that were 100% work-free. I have dealt with the following throughout my career (this isn’t the end of the world, many others have dealt with much worse):
- Making outrageously expensive international phone calls that ended up being completely pointless.
- Interrupting a day of skiing to come off the mountain to accommodate someone else’s schedule for a conference call.
- Sitting on a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean at 11:00 pm discussing when and why a company would expect to run out of money.
The interesting thing is, there were some trips where work required much more of my time, but that did not correlate with my frustration level. Responding to critical matters is one thing, dealing with trivial B.S. is another. Case in point, I had one boss that insisted I call in to check voicemail (this was more than a few years ago) just to make sure nothing got missed with any clients. Clearly, there were other ways to manage this within the office, but the individual simply did not value anyone’s personal time.
In another situation, a vacation to Hawaii coincided with the closing of a refinancing in which I was integral, and was the only person who could complete the process, call it dumb luck. The arrangement made was to text me when there were issues and I would then check my email to resolve them. Otherwise, I didn’t check in and enjoyed my trip. Due to the time change, combined with jet lag, I was able to deal with any issues in the morning, and before noon, I knew I had the rest of the day free and clear.
Ways to manage
Early in my career, I found that the best way to avoid being interrupted on vacation was to go places that were not as easily connected to the outside world (Siberia, Kilimanjaro, etc.). Due to tremendous advancements in communications, there are far fewer places that can qualify as out of reach.
In certain instances, I let people know when I was taking vacation and was explicit ahead of time that I would not be checking email or voicemail. I was only to be contacted in a dire emergency. In addition, I informed them I would have my significant other screen any work call. Every time I did this, I was never bothered. The other important caveat to this is to take responsibility and actually not check email, which is really easy to disable on your smartphone. Try it on your next trip, it feels great.