I work hard as a manager, but I’d rather not be contacted during my precious vacations. What is the best way to convey this to my team?

Elaine Varelas advises on best practices to consider and model when a manager is on vacation.

Q.  I’m in a managerial role at work. My time off is precious and my time off when I’m away on vacation is extra precious. How can I let my colleagues know NOT to bother me while on vacation and that I won’t be checking my email at all? I really need down time to disconnect and recharge, but it’s so difficult these days.

A. Having access to managers is vital for employees. Taking time off away from work is also vital for your mental health and wellbeing. Taking your allotted vacation time can help alleviate burnout and can also help you model positive behaviors for your employees by unplugging and disconnecting. You need to understand what the norm is at your organization and communicate with your boss about what your expectations are and what the expectations within the organization are. It’s important that everyone agrees about what time away from work means and what kind of issue might require calls after hours or while on vacation. Having respect for people’s time off is important. Is your vacation occurring in the middle of a huge project, or when the team is dealing with something very new in their area of responsibility? Most people would rather make decisions on their own and not be micromanaged – unless they are chastised for the actions they take “without approval”.

The fact that you use the word “bother” is concerning because there may be times when your staff really does need you even if you’re on vacation or it’s after hours. Have you helped them develop their decision making and problem-solving skills as it relates to issues they face on a daily basis?  Do they know the areas you believe they can make decisions on their own? You are ready to set boundaries for them not to contact you, but have you given them ways to get support while you are away?

Consider designating a team member to cover for you while you are away or a manager of the day who can answer questions or help a team member problem solve any issues they might need to resolve. This developmental activity can help the team develop a stronger sense of self-reliance and give the lead member the opportunity to strengthen their management skills.

Meet with the team before you go, to outline the issues they can deal with, and anything extraordinary that you’d like to be called about.   In your out-of-office message, designate a team member, along with their contact information, who can help with anything that is pressing. Consider the fact that you might be the one creating the problem. Have you given your staff the authority to make decisions? Do they believe that you will back them up on any decisions that they make while you’re not available? Empower your team to be independent and trust them to make decisions. And regardless of the decision, back them up upon your return.

Before you take time off, discuss with your team how they might use different types of communication for different kinds of situations while you are away.  Email can be used for things that your staff needs to make you aware of, but not in a timely fashion. If it’s an urgent issue and they really do need your input, let them know that they can text, call, or send a Microsoft Teams message if you have that available. That way you don’t have to log in to your email and see every email that occurs during your time off. Communicating with your team and letting them know what their sphere of influence is valuable in building a positive team. It’s important that you let them know that you won’t second guess them after the fact. Your team doesn’t want to be a “bother” and letting them know that your role is to help them will suggest that you respect their abilities, which will lead them to respect your time off. 

This situation seems like a great opportunity for your management level and your managers to communicate and lay down some consistent practices and guidelines within your own organization and then have a similar direct conversation with your reports. Everyone will benefit from having clear protocols surrounding time off, and even after hours calls, as you go forward.