The Best Time to Ace Work-Life Balance? On Vacation
By Robin Madell
When it comes to work-life balance, blend is the new trend – even when taking days off during summer months.
While you may wish things were different, the fact is that heightened job expectations have forced many vacationers to find ways to integrate the office into their downtime. In 2013, the American Psychological Association reported that close to half of American workers check work messages at least once a day while on vacation, when they are supposedly off the grid.
Staying plugged in all the time certainly has its drawbacks when it comes to focusing on family and fun, and can also lead to ineffective performance at work. Yet the APA research found that 56 percent of those studied felt that staying tethered during extended breaks from the office actually allows for greater productivity, while 53 percent feel it improves flexibility.
Whether you're among those who value the increased ability to stay connected or wish you could ditch your smartphone for a few days (or weeks), there are always ways to improve your work-life blending skills. Here are some strategies to make the blend better for you, your family and your colleagues while you're on vacation:Give yourself a cushion. Most people only consider the actual days they're vacationing as the days they're off-duty. But if you build in some breathing room to transition into and out of vacation time, you can avoid unnecessary stress.
Maura Thomas, author of "Personal Productivity Secrets," suggests changing your voice mail and email out-of-office messages to say that you'll be gone one day before you actually leave on vacation – and that you'll return one day after you actually return. "Everyone is always rushing around, trying to complete a million things before they are going to be out of the office, so this will give you a little 'cushion,' perhaps a few extra undisturbed hours on the day before you leave, to tie up loose ends," she says, adding that your re-entry to work will be less chaotic if you know you have a day upon your return to get back to zero before people expect to hear from you.
Pre-delegate top priorities and share schedules. You're on vacation, and the dreaded call comes: an urgent work issue needs your attention while you're away. If you decide to answer the call, Patti Johnson, CEO of the change and organizational development consulting firm PeopleResults, recommends asking yourself upfront if you're the only one who can help or make the decision. You should make sure the answer is yes before you jump in – otherwise, pre-delegate by asking a colleague to serve as the first reviewer or input provider, so that the project progresses without you. "Once they think it looks good, only then they can send it to you for a final look," she says. "This helps minimize the time you have to spend on it. And return the favor when they are out."
Johnson also advises being very specific on when you'll be available if you have to be. "Define your availability in advance so that you aren't on call throughout the vacation," she says. "Or, set aside a few hours early one morning before everyone is awake to respond to a few key emails, but limit it and share your plan with others in advance."
Just go on vacation. Viewed another way, the APA stats cited above also mean that half of employees don't check their work email from their Hawaiian cruise or while climbing Mount Everest. Plenty of executives agree that to get the full value of a vacation, employees should completely disconnect from all work-related pings.
David Morken, co-founder and CEO of the communication technology company Bandwidth, says he has selfish reasons for wanting his teams to really go on vacation. "We want the best out of our people when they're on the job," he says. "Taking the time and having the discipline – and it can take a lot of discipline – to completely disconnect can mean the difference between someone coming back from vacation and announcing their resignation, and someone coming back from vacation and wowing us all with the next big idea."
Robin Madell has spent more than two decades as a corporate writer, journalist and communications consultant on business, leadership, career, health, finance, technology and public-interest issues. She serves as a copywriter, speechwriter and ghostwriter for executives and entrepreneurs across diverse industries. Madell has interviewed more than 200 thought leaders around the globe, winning 20 awards for editorial excellence. She served on the board of directors of the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association in New York and San Francisco. Madell is the author of "Surviving Your Thirties: Americans Talk About Life After 30" and co-author of "The Strong Principles: Career Success." You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.