Many of us who are fortunate to have PTO or vacation pay will take advantage of this benefit during the summer months. Whether it’s a last minute decision or it has been planned months in advance, many organizations do not take the time to outline policies for covering the workload of vacationing employees while they are out of the office. Why is this on my radar? Well, I’m usually the one that has to field questions such as “Where is Joe?” “He did not set an out-of-office message on his voice mail!” “Jane left my name as a contact on her email reply, but did not give me a heads up!” “Do you know where Jane saved the Smith Company proposal on the network? It’s due today.”
Here is a list of things to consider when crafting a vacation or out-of-office policy:
1. Permission to take vacation. Set up a procedure on who the employee needs to ask if they can take time off for a vacation. Should you design an internal form that needs signatures or will an email request do? Have a team calendar set up online or a hard copy calendar in a public area so when vacation requests are approved, they can be added to the calendar. This is especially helpful when other employees are planning their time off, and if people already have requested the same dates, it might be a tougher sell to get that same week off. The manager(s) who approves time off also need to realize that they should not just be saying yes to every request without reviewing the vacation calendar. It’s tough saying no, but if there isn’t enough people left to cover the work, then those left behind will be disheartened by the lack of consideration.
2. Who to notify when someone is unexpectedly out of the office? Who will notify the rest of the team? Set up a communication chain so when an employee notifies their supervisor they will expectantly be out of the office, someone will notify the team via email. Some offices utilize an in-and-out whiteboard than can be updated with absences and vacation time.
3. Communicate to those internally and externally that an employee will be out of the office. Make sure employees know to set up an out-of-office reply on their email. They should also set up a message on their voice mail letting callers know when they will be out of the office, and on what day they are returning. It’s important in both of these cases to include a name and number of another person who can be contacted if help is needed before an employee returns to the office. And a small, but important note, let that person know they are the point of contact for the vacationing employee. There is nothing worse than being blind-sided by a question when you did not realize you were covering someone in their absence.
4. Workload coverage. Make sure employees know they are expected to let their point person know what critical items need to be addressed while they are away on vacation, where to find information, and if they are available during their vacation in a case of an emergency.
5. Encourage the overworked to take a vacation. It seems weird to force someone to take time off, but we all know that person who just never wants to leave. For their own health and sanity, as well as those who are working with them that might notice a curtness in a co-worker’s personality, gently bring up the subject with their supervisor who can determine if that employee should be approached. If you are comfortable approaching them yourself, assure them that you and the rest of the team are their for them and will handle the workload in their absence.
A little planning can go a long way in keeping your team well rested and running smoothly. BTW, all of these tips are applicable to managers as well! They need time off too, and the sign of a good manager is when a team functions well in their absence! Make sure they feel confident they are leaving the office in good hands.