Careers advice – how to handle your holidays

Written by: Sara Burton
Published on: 4 Aug 2014

Holiday - copyright Russavia Wikimedia Commons

No doubt about it, whatever your business or profession, you’ll be affected one way or another in August by people being on holiday – if not you, then your boss or colleagues, clients or planning officers – will all seem to be frustrating your “to do list” by not being around for two weeks at a time.

The office politics of booking your holiday in the first place is a whole different article, but needless to say if you’re reading this now, you’ve had a fair number of out of office replies (OOO) already today, so what to do in their absence?

Well the first thing is that nowadays being OOO is not the same as being out of contact with emails accessible on blackberries, mobiles and tablets. So no sooner have you digested the “Enjoying two weeks sailing in the Med; back 18 August”,  auto email reply, then comes a lengthy response to your query as the recipient types as best as possible on a tiny blackberry keyboard, whilst bobbing round off the coast of France. So you are one step forward, but then your subsequent response is met with total silence for the next 48 hours as they sail out of range….so not much further forward, although maybe a little green with envy.
And what if you are this person trying to enjoy their holiday? Do you reply or not? It’s so tempting to think that a quick reply will get things moving whilst you’re away, but if it escalates, you’ve made a bit of a rod for your own back by indicating that you’re both able and happy to be interrupted on holiday…in particular if it’s a client who gets an initial response but then thinks you are ignoring them, what impression does that give?

More importantly, think about the message this sends out to your colleagues about what you think of their capabilities to cover your absence. It suggests that you don’t trust them to handle your work and that they can’t cope without you. Of course, for years people went on holiday with little or no contact with the office (the slippery slope started with the mobile phone in the 1990s where the battle was to overcome poor signals and astronomical overseas charges) and important matters were handed over properly and thoroughly to colleagues in the knowledge that they wouldn’t be able to drop a quick email to double check something. They were left to get on with it.

And this was no bad thing; covering someone else’s holiday or leave can provide invaluable experience. For junior members of the team it gives them a chance to make decisions independently with “apron strings” cut for the holiday period and gain client or public facing experience they may not have had the opportunity to handle before. For senior members of the team it may just serve as a reminder as to the volume of workload, pressure and deadlines that your team are facing on a day-to-day basis and provide insight into operational improvements that can be made since you last did that role.

Today, some firms are introducing policies which requires holiday cover to be provided by colleagues not by a holidaying member of staff for exactly these reasons. Finally, it does allow the person on holiday to actually switch off – literally and metaphorically – and enjoy their holiday without being distracted with missives from the office. And when your holiday comes round, isn’t that what you would want?

Sara Burton is managing consultant at Cobalt Recruitment

Image courtesy of russavia, Wikimedia Commons