Small-business owners and corporate employees are often reluctant to take vacations because they worry that their companies will suffer while they’re away. But Paul Howard, a co-owner of Cliff Bell’s jazz club in Detroit, has learned that leaving is advantageous. “The farthest I’ve gone is a bike trip to the Andes, cut off from all communications—except for occasional Internet café—for five days. And what I found… is that people step up and learn things they didn’t know before. So when I got back, there was one more thing I didn’t have to do. It was a really beneficial process.”
Anne Weisberg, senior vice president at the Families and Work Institute and co-author of Mass Career Customization, points out that there’s no reason to check in with the office if everyone’s taking the same time off—and that even major corporations use this approach. “Several companies, including PricewaterhouseCoopers and GlaxoSmithKline, close down the week between Christmas and New Year’s,” Weisberg said. “Everyone is out at the same time, which means no one is worried about their colleagues trying to reach them. What if you did this for your company’s slowest time of the year?” (And, P.S., a PricewaterhouseCoopers news release applauds the break: “Giving our people the chance to relax and recharge helps them deliver at a high level in the new year.”)
If you can’t shut down, well-in-advance planning is crucial for taking time off and not having to meddle in the business while you’re away. You need to clear your calendar and make sure you won’t be out of pocket at the same time as the people—from your assistant manager to your brother to corporate colleagues—who can cover for you.
To execute this tactic effectively: If possible, spread the responsibility so one person isn’t stuck with the full burden of replacing the vacationer as well as doing his or her own job. With point people assigned in your absence for crisis and non-crisis work, if-then scenarios can be determined, problems can be solved, and work can progress; final approval of new work will wait for your return. These arrangements let “people actually unplug on vacation,” Weisberg says. “The tighter the coordination among team members, the more likely that people will actually get a break.”
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