Do You Train Respect for Vacation Time?

An essential part of new manager training should be teaching them how to effectively plan for employees’ vacation time and encourage them to disconnect from the office during that time.

Have you ever gone on vacation and returned to multiple e-mail messages sent to you during that time by a colleague who knew you were on vacation? I have. What’s worse, the e-mails contained messages that I suspect the sender knew I would feel compelled to immediately respond to. I hypothesized that she was testing to see if I meant it when I said I would not be checking e-mail at all while I was away.

Fortunately, I didn’t take the bait because I was smart enough to follow through on my promise not to check work messages at all during my time off. I also give myself credit for never turning on e-mail notifications on my phone. That means there’s no chance I will be relaxing and see a message from work pop up on my phone’s screen.

Managers Need to Model the Behavior

The memory of that vacation e-mail experience prompted me to explore how companies can respect employees’ vacation time. I found a blog posted by Talent Intelligence with tips that can be taught to your managers. The first tip is to let the employee know you don’t need an immediate response. This tip, however, is only necessary if your corporate culture sends a message that employees are expected to check e-mail while on vacation. If your culture aims to encourage employees to disconnect from work completely while on vacation, then they won’t be checking messages at all.

Managers can be trained to model the behavior of letting employees know they will not be checking work e-mail or voicemail at all during their time off, and to only contact them by mobile phone if it’s a business life-and-death (or actual life-and-death) emergency—as in, “We’re about to go out of business, or someone is about to lose their life.” Then, after letting employees know they will be disconnected, the manager must follow through and really not check messages at all.

I once experienced a manager who sent our work group an e-mail during his vacation time, noting that he was about to drive through a scenic part of Italy. Partly, he may have initiated the e-mail as an excuse to brag, but more likely, he felt compelled by corporate culture to stay connected and then threw in the brag at the end as an afterthought. I thought how lucky he was to be in such a beautiful place and then how sad it was he couldn’t focus on enjoying the moment he was in.

It Could Be a Workload Problem

The Talent Intelligence blog notes that employees who check and respond to messages during vacation time may be overworked. So it may not be so much a corporate culture problem as an unmanageable workload problem. Managers can be trained to have a conversation with employees who have been sending work e-mails while on vacation. “Peter, I noticed that you sent a few work-related e-mails to us while you were on vacation. I want to make sure your workload is manageable enough for you to take true vacation time, in which you don’t feel compelled to stay connected to our office. Your vacation time is part of your compensation package, so it’s your right to take the time completely for yourself and those you are with. Please don’t hesitate to let me know if you need someone to cover for you while you’re on vacation, and to plan with me to manage your deadlines, so you’re not in a position of having to work on vacation.”

Psychological Games

Sometimes, a manager who contacts an employee they know is on vacation can be playing psychological games, seeing how firmly they have their thumb on the employee. For example, I heard of a person who was at the airport about to leave on vacation when they received a message from their boss asking if he could do an impromptu performance review with them. The manager liked to do informal, frequent performance reviews—a practice that can be beneficial—and thought the beginning of an employee’s weeklong vacation was a good time to do it. Of all times, why at that very moment, when the employee had just started their vacation, was a performance review necessary? Interesting, isn’t it?

That same boss contacted the employee again a few days later to ask them to fill out Human Resources paperwork. At the time, the employee was enjoying a cocktail with friends and was baffled that the boss felt this couldn’t wait, or that the boss wasn’t organized enough to make sure it was taken care of before the employee left for vacation.

Respect for vacation is innate for some of us, while for others, it definitely is not. An essential part of new manager training is teaching how to effectively plan for, and respect, employees’ vacation time.

Do you train your managers on how to enable employees to take true vacation time in which they completely disconnect from work?