I distinctly remember the first time I took a vacation after getting my first “adult” job. I was new, having started in April, and was going on a vacation in June for 10 days. I negotiated this up front with my soon to be supervisor, letting them know that I had this planned, and I would appreciate the flexibility of working around this despite not having the accumulated leave on the books. My supervisor at the time graciously allowed me the leave, and sent me on my way to Moab with my family.
In previous positions vacations were actually vacations. I was able to get away, uninterrupted and fully recharge. However, with this position, that was not the case. Almost immediately, I was getting texts and emails (which sent a notification to my phone directly), requesting my assistance with various matters, none of which were an emergency. I ended up spending the rest of my 10 days searching for internet signal, secretly responding to emails and texts, and taking calls. Needless to say, Moab is a “do again” for the Eaton family.
I struggled a long time with trying to figure out why I felt compelled to be so available. Maybe it was me trying to prove myself in a new position, probably a smattering of imposter syndrome, and likely a bit of guilt for taking a vacation so soon after getting a new job. Unfortunately, after this vacation I doubled down on being the person everyone could count on for anything. This led to some burnout and boundary issues that took me a while to reconcile which was of utmost importance as I started to supervise people and build my team.
There is no such thing as an administrative emergency. This is something I had to recognize, and then promote with my team. I immediately built redundancies and cross trained them, focusing on the last minute issues that our stakeholders have when any one of us is away. Any one person on my team can address any issue at any time for any one of us. Additionally, we have a strict “NO EMAIL/TEXT” policy while on vacation. How did I get them to buy off on what could be perceived as extra work you might ask? I told them my story of my Moab trip. They all had similar experiences. That understanding helped everyone lean in, and subsequently allowed for everyone to be able to take an actual vacation.
Daily boundaries are just as important as the longer breaks, and setting rules for when the workday is over is really important. I don’t answer emails after 6pm. If there is something truly pressing, those who need to know have my cell phone number. Can you guess how many calls I have had in the last 4 years? One. It was about the pandemic and how I wanted my dear friend and colleague to get our team set up for the unprecedented time they would be away from the office.
Unfortunately with current work modalities it has become harder than ever to really set those boundaries. I recently read an article about flex time and how it has become increasingly problematic during the pandemic. One of the takeaways is to model the boundary behavior for your team. It is VERY important for people to establish boundaries and take a break from work, and I make sure I take the time I need. It doesn’t matter how long, I just completely unplug. I have noticed that my team leaves for vacation genuinely excited, instead of anxious for the amount of work they will return to. It is one of the best gifts all of us can give to each other in our organizations.
I encourage you to look at your operations and see if there are improvements you can make so boundaries and breaks are possible for you and your team. I myself will be unplugged right after this blog is posted. Take a break, recharge, and hopefully your teams have maintained so all of you can continue to rule the world upon return.