Vacation anyone?

The Harvard Business Review recently published a Management Tip of the Day on the critical importance of taking a vacation from work. According to this Tip, it’s not just a personal issue – it’s a business issue. And the obvious benefits on the personal front - including the opportunity to recharge, relax, reflect, and spend time with family and friends - feed those on the business front. Upon returning to the workplace after vacation, employees demonstrate reduced stress and higher productivity. 

Unfortunately, many employees do not take vacations. The statistics are overwhelming, with some estimates as high as 54%. Not only is this unhealthy for the individual, but it can be detrimental to a project team. 

Consider the story that a colleague shared with me about a very complex project, where the Project Manager was going on an extended vacation. In preparation, he created a plan of action for the team, with detailed process plans and action items. Then he met with the project team so they could review the plan and ask questions, including contingencies in case anything went awry during his absence. 

And sure enough, something did go awry. But it was not because of the project or the project team. After that pre-vacation meeting, the team felt they were in good shape and had a clear understanding of what they would be doing and accountable for while the Project Manager was away. Rather, the one contingency that the Project Manager did not account for was his inability to take the break for which he had otherwise so carefully planned. 

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Apparently, on the second day of his extended vacation, the Project Manager logged in and started responding to emails, answering questions and providing information to other stakeholders that no one on the project team was privy to. The recipients of the Project Manager’s emails then started “responding to all” with additional questions. But by then, the Project Manager had logged out and left the team with their questions unanswered. And to make matters worse, the Project Manager had only periodic access to email. What a mess. 

Lessons Learned

  1. Everyone should go on vacation.
  2. Prior to going on vacation, establish an action plan encompassing the following elements:
    • Current status of the project.
    • Work that is expected to kick off, wrap up, or solidify during your absence.
    • Various risks that may arise and plans for responding to those risks.
    • Communication activities and needs that detail the who, when, what, and how. 
    • An RACI chart that clearly indicates who is Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed of various activities and issues. 
  3. When on vacation, BE on vacation. Check out and disconnect from work! 

The best thing you can do for your team is to help establish a plan of action for the project while you are on vacation, and then stick to that plan. And part of sticking to that plan is you sticking to your vacation.