Avoiding ‘While You Were Out’ Syndrome

Teh key component to enjoying your time off is to put together a solid action plan to keep the work moving in your absence.


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While it’s important to take a break to recharge your batteries and renew yourself for the challenges at work, some studies actually report that taking a vacation can be as stressful as staying on the job. It doesn’t have to be. A survey by Hudson, a recruitment firm, of more than 2,000 workers found that a quarter of managers reported returning from vacation more stressed than when they left. A third of those responding spent some time checking in with the office, some as often as every day. And more than a third of those responding were expected by their management to be accessible during their vacation.

This situation could be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. The key component to enjoying your time off is to put together a solid action plan to keep the work moving in your absence. This will alleviate stress and prevent a work pile-up—the “while you were out” syndrome—from greeting you upon your return.

Here is a pre-vacation prep list to map out your to-do list before leaving:
Meet with your team to identify upcoming deadlines for the next couple of weeks and work with them to decide what they can handle during your absence. By including them in your pre-vacation preparations, they will take ownership of their assignments seriously and come through for you.

Create project agreements for any new projects that will be in progress while you are away, and check in with your group to see what’s already on their plate. Be sure your team is clear on what they should be accomplishing while you are gone.

Provide clear communication boundaries for your team to contact you on your vacation. Can you be reached on your cell phone? If so, is it for emergencies only? Can you define what constitutes an emergency? Will you be checking your e-mail at all or only at a certain times? Do you only want to be contacted about certain issues?

Define these boundaries before you leave so you get some downtime and your team knows when it is appropriate to contact you. This one is important for your group to agree upon and for you to accept as well. If you know that you’ll be itching to call or e-mail the office to see what’s going on, schedule one late afternoon check-in so you can learn about that day’s events and advise how to handle any issues that have risen.

Assign to a staffer the task of composing a “while you were out” recap e-mail for you to review when you return from your vacation. This should be the highlights of what took place while you were out so you are up to speed. Receiving this upon your return can also ease any stress related to being out of the loop.

Make sure your e-mail package allows you to do an “auto respond” message for e-mails that come in while you are out. The auto respond message will be most helpful if it includes an e-mail roster of staffers and their duties while you are gone. This will help keep things moving while you are gone and avoid those dreaded 500 e-mails in your inbox when you return to the workplace.

Not office-related, but equally important to tuning out, pack some things that have nothing to do with work, but have everything to do with escaping reality. It can be a book you’ve been dying to read, a newly downloaded music playlist or even a craft you’d like to try. Just as long as it indulges the part of your brain that may not get to stretch at work or even during your commute to and from work. Plan your “downtime” wisely and really do something that you’ll cherish even when you’re back in the trenches.

Last, but not least, find time to laugh. Laughter reduces stress, lowers your blood pressure, lifts depression and even boosts your immune system. Laughter is more than funny, it’s healthy.

Although it may seem indulgent to take a vacation, consider it an investment in your own productivity. There isn’t a piece of equipment anywhere that doesn’t need some periodic maintenance so it can continue to deliver quality results. Shouldn’t that apply to you?

Michelle LaBrosse is the founder of Cheetah Learning, the author of the “Cheetah Success Series” and a keynote speaker and industry thought leader. E-mail her at marketing@cheetahlearning.com.