Taking a bit of time to disconnect from work is one of the best things we can do for our bodies, brains, and our jobs. The prospect of taking two weeks out over the summer should be something we look forward to, a chance to recharge the batteries, spend time with our families and replenish our Vitamin D stores.
Why is it then that the simple act of switching on an ‘out of office’ email has so many business leaders up and down the country breaking out in a cold sweat?
I’ve heard peers say that taking an extended break from work ‘simply isn’t worth the hassle.’ The perception is that any benefits these individuals might accrue from taking a break are automatically nullified by the spectre of imagined issues and problems that might greet them when they return to work.
Among those who do manage to tear themselves away from the office, many seek constant reassurance by ‘keeping an eye on things,’ even when that means a steady stream of poolside conference calls and emails.
According to research conducted by Vistage, more than a third of UK bosses expect to log on and do work during their summer holidays. In our always-on, always connected world, constant availability has become a worrying badge of honour among many business leaders. Not only is this level of intensity unsustainable, it often masks more serious issues that will begin to unravel over time.
That is not to say our personal lives will always conveniently mirror the requirements of our jobs. When I worked in senior management positions, I accepted that there would be times, even on holiday, where my input would be required in order to move things along.
I also knew that keeping a nervous eye on my emails every half an hour would defeat the entire purpose of going on holiday. It takes time to wind down and disconnect. Like every other human being, I needed that time.
So, on the few occasions that I did need to do some work during my I holiday, I’d get up before the rest of the family, make myself a cup of coffee, open up my laptop, and spend an hour running my eye over anything requiring my attention.
My team knew that they could contact me during this time, and importantly they had a clear understanding of where my input was necessary, what could wait, and what they would be expected to handle themselves. When the allotted time was up, I put my laptop into the hotel safe, and headed out to enjoy my day. Setting clear boundaries, both for myself and for my team, gave me the time I needed to detach from work.
Problems arise when boundaries begin to blur. It is one thing to answer the odd email, it is another thing entirely where seemingly run of the mill operational tasks start getting in the way of a well-earned rest. If you find yourself seriously considering opening up a long ‘to-do’ list during your holiday, stop for a moment, take yourself off for a coffee (or a glass of wine, you are on holiday after all) and ask yourself what is really going on here.
Do you have the right team around you? How comfortable do you feel about delegating work to your deputies? Do they feel sufficiently empowered to take decisions in your absence? Have you provided a clear handover, and did you build in time to cover off any questions your team might have concerning the contents of that handover?
Ask yourself as well about the message it sends to employees that their boss is willing to sacrifice time off in order to stay up to speed with whatever is happening back at home. By choosing to forgo taking a holiday, leaders are not so much showing support for their employees as they are demonstrating to them how little they value or consider it necessary for employees to take time off work. Is that a company that you would like to work for? How long would it take before you started to look elsewhere?
Taking time out and giving yourself space to reflect is as important for you as it is for the people around you. Professional services firm Ernst & Young conducted an internal study of its employees and found that for each additional 10 hours of holiday time employees took, their year-end performance ratings improved 8 percent. What’s more, frequent vacationers were significantly less likely to leave the firm.
Another study by the Boston Consulting Group found that high-level professionals who were required to take time off were significantly more productive overall than those who spent more time working. When you’re more productive, you’re happier, and when you’re happier, you excel at what you do.
It’s said that the best leaders have the confidence to sit back and give others the chance to shine. Staying true to that principle should not begin and end with the two weeks many of us will spend enjoying long lunches and afternoon naps this summer. As leaders, it should be the foundation of how we strive to structure our businesses.
This article was brought to you courtesy of Vistage
, the world’s leading business performance and leadership advancement organisation for small and medium-sized businesses.