If spring is the season when “a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love” as Tennyson wrote, then summer must be the season when personnel managers and HR professionals pull out their hair over vacation scheduling. According to historian Cindy Aron,author of Working at Play, the modern vacation concept traces its roots to the mid 19th century when for the first time a significant number of people had the resources to take vacations. She said, “Part of what made the middle class is that they had worked hard, they ascribed to certain values: hard work, discipline, sobriety, which allowed them to accumulate enough resources to go on vacation.”
Today the vacation is firmly entrenched as part of the American work culture. And despite the scheduling headaches they can cause for organizations, studies reveal that vacations are good for both physical and mental health. Terry Hartig, an environmental psychologist at Uppsala University in Sweden, studied prescriptions for anti-depressants issued over a twelve-year period. Hartig found that during the summer months when vacations were more prevalent, the number of prescriptions issued declined dramatically. Being off work for a little while is good for us.
But while vacations may be beneficial for both workers and organizations, they certainly present challenges to organizations trying to juggle workloads and responsibilities, especially during the summer vacation season. Here are some tips to help survive this summer without losing your mind.
1) Check your systems. Does your company have clearly written and communicated policies concerning not just how many vacation days each employee has, but also for required notice to request days off, “blocked” days when vacation cannot be taken, how conflicts between vacation requests will be resolved and how many vacation days can accrue? Sit down with the employee handbook and make sure that it says exactly what it should, and that you are actually doing what it says.
The better job you do making the rules fair and plain up front, the less time you will have to spend on resolving conflicts and smoothing ruffled feathers. The company that has not taken the time to do this is asking for trouble. There are going to be questions that come up, and clear policies can keep those from souring relationships with your greatest assets—your employees.
2) Establish a master calendar. Every time an employee vacation request is approved, it needs to be entered in an updated location that can be accessed by managers when they receive vacation requests. Whether you have ten employees or ten thousand, the same principle applies. As someone once said, “A short pencil is better than a long memory.”
If it isn’t on the calendar, it doesn’t exist. The only way to ensure that a ball doesn’t get dropped is to establish and enforce this principle. Teach your managers (or super glue a note to your own computer) that this is crucial, and you will save yourself a lot of headaches.
3) Consider temp services. In 1946 Russ Kelly sent his own secretary to a client of his business services firm who urgently needed someone to fill in for a worker who hadn’t come in. Kelly Girls were soon employed in offices across the country. A growing market for temporary workers to fill gaps followed and today thousands of companies offer highly specialized workers for a wide array of technical skills.
Covering empty desks and job responsibilities can sometimes be done by co-workers, but that may not be the most effective option. Establish a working relationship with one or more temp agencies in your area, and you may find summer vacations a lot easier to manage.
4) Schedule your own vacation. Don’t miss out on the benefits of a few days away from the office yourself. It is really tempting to stay chained to your office chair because there will always be one more task that needs to be done. But as management guru Bill Oncken noted, if you are irreplaceable, you can’t ever be promoted. The work will still be there when you get back.
According to a study released by Expedia.com in 2013, Americans let almost 600,000,000 vacation days go unused. The average worker taking less than 75% of the days to which he was entitled. Don’t be part of that trend! Take your own vacation days, and return to the office refreshed and ready to hit the ground running.