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Make Your Vacation Count

Hard-working professionals convince themselves they have no time for a vacation. But the time you spend away from the office can be just as important as the time you spend working.

February 21, 2008
from Accountemps

Hard-working professionals sometimes convince themselves they have no time for a vacation. But the time you spend away from the office can be just as important as the time you spend working.

Most people return with new energy and perspective after a vacation. In fact, your company is probably very aware of this fact. While a vacation’s advantage is hard to quantify, some estimates say that for every dollar of vacation benefits a company gives its employees, it gets a three dollar return on the investment in the form of improved employee productivity and morale.

If you’re tempted to skip your vacation this year, or if you do take one only to find yourself spending all your time away worrying about your projects and obsessively checking your e-mail, try some advance preparation. A few well-chosen tactics can ensure you don’t undermine the purpose of a vacation. Here are some arrangements you can make to ease the strain.

Before you go:

Check company policy. When you’re about to schedule your time off, make sure you understand your firm’s vacation guidelines. Some companies allow you to carry unused vacation days over to the next year; others have a use-it-or-lose-it system. Check with your supervisor or the HR department if you are not sure how much time you have left for the year.

Choose your dates wisely. You don’t want to schedule your vacation during the busiest period of the year. For example, for most CPAs, the tax season would not be the best time to be away. Identify the dates you want early in the year, and clear them with your manager before booking your hotel and plane reservations.

Take enough time off to make a difference. A vacation day for a doctor’s appointment or another chore may be necessary, but it is no vacation. Not all employers grant personal leave days, leaving employees with no choice but to use vacation days for this purpose, but everyone should try to take a minimum of five consecutive days off for a true vacation at least once a year.

Many experts say that a one-week vacation is barely enough to unwind from the pressures of the office; it’s not until the second week that you really begin to enjoy your vacation. Another benefit of a longer vacation: Coworkers and clients are less likely to contact you. They’ll deal with the issue themselves or find a way around your absence — which is just what you want them to do.

Inform your colleagues and clients. Let them know well in advance the dates you’ll be away. Prepare for as much as you can ahead of time, and ask someone on your team to keep on top of what has to be done while you are gone. If you are a manager, spread the responsibilities around to more than one person to avoid overwhelming a single individual.

Update your manager. Schedule a meeting with your manager to apprise him or her of the status of your projects. Leave behind a list of tasks to be handled in your absence and who will be responsible for them.

Take care of the little things. Tidy up your desk, or at least make your work accessible to others while you’re gone. Place everything so someone could come into your office and find anything they might need. Leave a list of high-priority items so your teammates know what’s critical — and so you’ll remember what to tackle first when you get back. Change your voice-mail greeting and create an “out of the office” automatic response for your e-mail. (And remember to change them back when you return!)

While you are away:

Avoid checking your e-mail and voice-mail. If you are required to check in with the office, create a set time for these calls and stick to it; don’t allow work to creep in and spoil your time off. It’s OK to leave behind a contact number, but people at the office should use it only when needed. Since you’ve made sure your most important responsibilities are covered by someone else, relax and enjoy yourself.

After you get back:

Allow some breathing room. Make sure you have time to catch up with your voice-mail, e-mail messages and your paper inbox. A good idea would be to come in early on the day after your vacation. You’ll have some quiet time to review what’s been happening while you were gone before everyone else arrives.

Brief yourself bit by bit. Allow time to schedule individual appointments with the teammates who have been covering for you so they can fill you in. Don’t try to update yourself on every project at once — you’ll absorb the news better if you take it in chunks. By all means, contact clients to make sure their needs have been taken care of.

Thank the colleagues who have covered for you and offer to do the same for them. And don’t be overly critical of the job they’ve done covering for you. Even though they might not have done things precisely the way you would have, it’s better to simply thank them if what they did was reasonably effective.

With adequate planning and preparation, you will return from a vacation, not to a scene of chaos and disorder, but to find that pending issues have been taken care of and outbreaks of trouble have been averted. And your time off will leave you refreshed and ready to tackle new challenges — the way it’s supposed to.

Accountemps is one of the world’s first and largest temporary staffing services specializing in the placement of accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals. The company has more than 360 offices throughout North America, Europe, the Asia-Pacific region and offers online job search services at www.accountemps.com.