Vacation days are a vital part of workplace sanity; use your vacation time wisely says Robert Hosking

Everyone deserves time off — even workaholics. Still, getting away is easier said than done. One in three senior managers polled for an OfficeTeam survey said the biggest mistake they made with their last vacation was taking too little time off. A quarter said they couldn’t unwind, and 22 percent admitted they checked in with the office too much. What’s more, two in five employees in the US don’t take their full vacation allocation.

Savvy workers take vacation days not only so they won’t lose them, but also because they know it’s a vital part of workplace sanity. Whether you’re checking out for a few days, weeks or a whole month, taking full advantage of your next holiday means dodging the five classic mistakes.

Mistake #1: Forfeiting your time off

A study commissioned by Expedia found that Americans receive an average of 14 vacation days a year but use only 10 of them. The average British worker gets 23 days of annual paid leave, but 40 percent rarely or never use their full allotment, according to a Hilton Hotels & Resort study.

In an effort to make their staff recharge, many firms don’t allow unused days to roll over to the next year. So, don’t miss the boat when December 31 or June 30 all too quickly rolls around and you have yet to take that vacation.

Mistake #2: Having a fear of leaving

Don’t be afraid to get away from the office on a regular basis. You are entitled to all your vacation time, so don’t use busyness as an excuse. Your boss or colleagues will not think poorly of you if you go on a long weekend getaway or a two-week summer vacation.
Let coworkers, bosses and customers know when you’ll be taking time off from work, and give them sufficient notice so they won’t be caught off-guard. So that you can take vacation with a clear inbox and without a cloud over your head, be sure to plan ahead. Finish up any outstanding projects or hand it over temporarily to a reliable coworker. Show your stand-in where to find important documents and files. Change your voicemail and set up an automatic email vacation reply. Then leave with a clear conscience.

Mistake #3: Picking the worst time to take vacation

There may be no perfect time to get away from it all, but you shouldn’t schedule your next hiatus close to important deadlines and seasonal bottlenecks or during staff shortages. Coworkers and bosses will appreciate your consideration, and you’ll be better able to relax. On the rare occasion when your planned holiday unavoidably falls in the midst of, say, a major client event, do as much as you can to help out in advance, and perhaps even bring in and train a temporary worker to cover for your absence.

Mistake #4: Having an abrupt takeoff and re-entry

While you may get an adrenaline kick from sprinting toward your vacation, avoid arranging too many meetings or deadlines right before you leave. Give yourself sufficient time to wind down work so that you’re not pulling an all-nighter before you have to catch your flight.

By the same token, don’t throw yourself back in at the deep end. Give yourself at least one unscheduled day to get caught up, answer emails, check in with your boss and colleagues, and get back into the routine. Recharged batteries can quickly run down if you use your first few post-vacation days to make up for lost time.

Mistake #5: Being wishy-washy about disconnecting

The more you can disconnect from the office while you take vacation, the more energetic and enthused you’ll feel when you get back. Resist the urge to check your work email or voicemail, because if you do, you’ll feel obligated to answer them. And this will suck you right back into work — the very thing you’re supposed to be getting away from. If you absolutely have to maintain some contact, set aside one specific time of day to do so, and be strict with yourself about how long you’ll deal with work matters.

Whether you’re preparing for a staycation or the trip of a lifetime, careful planning and clear communication can help you make the most of your upcoming time off. Then set your out-of-office messages and work boundaries, and get ready to take a relaxing, guilt-free holiday.

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Robert Hosking is the former Executive Director of OfficeTeam (www.officeteam.com). OfficeTeam is a division of Robert Half, the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm. The company has more than 300 staffing locations worldwide and offers ... (Read More)

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