‘Twas the week before New Year’s, when all through the office, not a creature was stirring, not even Slack’s “knock-brush.”
It’s a scenario many may find less than believable. Nearly half of employees work at least an hour a day while on vacation, according to one Qualtrics report from earlier this year, and roughly a quarter work at least three hours per day.
But beyond being able to participate in holiday festivities, the ability to fully step away from work is essential to workers’ health and wellbeing, as Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, told Charter earlier this year. “People need these times to replenish, where they know they are not at anybody’s beck and call,” the Harvard psychiatry professor said.
In that spirit, we’ve rounded up some of the best advice we’ve featured throughout this year on how to make your paid time off maximally restful and replenishing:
Systematize the creation of coverage plans. Get teammates on the same page about who’s covering what by providing templates for people to write out their out-of-office plans. Giving workers a place to start from also removes some of the burden on individual employees who may be scrambling to wrap things up before departing, making it easier for them to capture everything in one spot. One suggestion from time-management coach Elizabeth Grace Saunders is to have employees structure their work into three buckets: things they’ll do before signing off, things that should pause, and things to transfer to colleagues in their absence.
Make a list, and check it twice. If your team doesn’t have a pre-PTO system in place—or, even if they do, if you want extra peace of mind—create a checklist to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks before you sign off. Gitlab’s employee guide to PTO includes a list of things to take care of, including informing colleagues and managers of your vacation dates, setting out-of-office messages, updating your status on any shared calendar events, and establishing coverage plans. Some other things to consider adding: sending any emails that need to go out, informing external stakeholders of your plans, and blocking off time on your calendar to catch up when you return.
Write your out-of-office message thoughtfully. In her column from this summer, Charter columnist S. Mitra Kalita recommends going beyond the standard listing of dates and alternate contacts to including a brief explanation about the value of the time you’re taking off—a note about work-life balance, for example, or the importance of recharging, or preventing burnout. In her own OOO message, she includes her current reading list or articles she has written in the past. “Crafting it is a reminder to myself, as well as those reading it, that I can do those things if and only if I grant myself the opportunity to rest,” she writes. (For those looking for a little more whimsy in their OOO message, try Visit Iceland’s “OutHourse Your Email,” a free, digital service where horses stomp out responses to your emails on giant keyboards.)
Pause your inbox(es). Make it as difficult as possible to succumb to the temptation to check messages while out of office. Deleting Slack and email from your phone is one way to do this, or you could go a step further use a tool like Inbox Pause, which hides incoming emails from your inbox until your return date.
Nudge coworkers to stay offline while OOO. If you aren’t taking time off, you can still support colleagues who are OOO by nudging them to stay offline. Managers in particular can encourage direct reports by gently reminding them to disconnect if they see them online and offering to take on any outstanding work that might be keeping reports at their computer.
Try a stealth return. To stem the flow of inbound requests as you ease back into working, set your out-of-office message to stay on while you make your way through the pileup of unread messages. It’ll help you ramp up gradually—and might just make the wait until your next vacation a bit more bearable.