How to Take a Work Vacation That's a True Escape

By Robert Half May 21, 2019 at 6:00am

In today’s world of real-time technology, growing remote workforces and 24/7 accessibility, boundaries between work and play have never been blurrier. Shutting down to take a work vacation can seem like a luxury. However, just in case you're wondering, wearing scuba gear at your office desk isn’t the same as taking time off.

In a Robert Half survey, professionals said they plan to take an average of 10 vacation days this summer, one day more than last year. Nearly six in 10 of them (58%) will save their vacation time for June, July and August.

What’s the best way to prepare for vacation, one that might offer you time away from email, spreadsheets, calculators, computers, meetings, phone calls and stress? Here are nine tips to take a work vacation that will have you trading out your dress shoes for flip-flops and truly relaxing.

1. Plan ahead to take a work vacation

First of all, put that vacation on your calendars. Make a list of everything that needs to be handled and issues that might arise in your absence. Start this process early so you can be confident you’re not leaving anyone in a lurch.

Preparing now will also help your reboot have a lasting effect after vacation. Take note of any meetings or deadlines, and make appointments for your return to catch up on what you missed. Knowing what awaits you — and knowing that it’s manageable — will make returning to the office much easier. Rather than planning back-to-back meetings for the day you return, spread them out over a week so you won’t dread going back to the office.

2. Ask for help from colleagues

Simply put: Delegate effectively. If you’re a manager, it’s good practice to tactfully spread responsibilities evenly among your team to avoid burning out one person in particular. Ask staff members to handle your projects while you’re away, and offer to do the same for them when you return. Meet with those who will be filling in for you to alert them to upcoming tasks and deadlines. Explain processes and procedures, and make sure they know where key files are kept.

3. Consider temporary staffing

If you can’t find people to cover you or the workload is too heavy for your team to handle, consider working with a specialized staffing agency to bring in interim professionals. These workers can keep things running smoothly while you and your coworkers take a much-deserved work vacation.

4. Bring everyone up to speed

Aside from colleagues and your boss, let your employees and clients know you’re going to be away. Whether you’re in the middle of a big project or deal with important customers regularly, let the key players know the dates you’ll be away from the office and whom to contact during your vacation.

Also, ask whether there’s anything you can do for them before you leave. They’ll appreciate your thoughtfulness, and the advance warning might prevent any potential problems from arising while you’re gone.

5. Designate specific check-in times

If you're not going off the grid completely and plan to make yourself available by phone during your vacation, tell your coworkers or employees the exact times you can be reached. Review those times, avoid making calls outside of those windows and maintain your policy of not checking email. If you answer only a select few emails and ignore the rest, you could send confusing (and possibly insulting) messages to colleagues, employees or clients.

6. Clarify exceptions to the rule

Everyone has a different idea of what constitutes a crisis. If you plan to shut down completely, except for emergencies, be sure to define what “emergency” means to you. Have a premonition that a particular issue might arise? Let your backups know, and leave a list of resolution options so they’re prepared. If you’re interrupted mid-vacation for an issue you deem trivial or could have handled preemptively, your attempts at rest will be foiled.

7. Prepare your inbox and phone

Start with a clean inbox and voicemail, and then update your outgoing voicemail message and set up an out-of-office email reply.

Is there anything else you can do to prevent the mountain of post-vacation messages? Most email programs have a function that allows you to create “rules” for filtering your messages. For example, you may designate daily IT updates to the Deleted Items folder, because the content will be irrelevant by the time you return. Or you might set up rules that direct emails from certain contacts to the people who will be covering for you.

8. Clean up your desk

Make sure you organize your desk, too — the physical one — before you leave so you can hit the ground running when you return. There’s a symbolic purpose in doing this, especially if you do it early. A clean desk can help you shift out of work mode before you leave.

9. Unplug and disconnect — or not

This might be the most important tip: Give yourself the ability to truly disengage from work and all your devices. If you must check in, provide specific times that you’ll be available, and limit your accessibility to those times.

Think of your vacation as a mandatory break for your health and well being, and be sure to block off time when you get back for catching up. With the right preparation, you can return feeling more energized, ready to tackle tough projects and prepared to take advantage of any opportunities that may emerge.

Another way to think about it? Whether you’re a manager or part of a team, you can lead by example in the way you take your next vacation — away from work.

So, travel far and wide, or hang out in your own community. Write in a journal, learn something new, listen to music, watch movies, lounge on a beach, romp around with friends and relatives, young and old, or take a solitary trip. Whatever kind of work vacation you take, enjoy the view.

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