Vacations can feel very different when we book them in our calendars or reflect on them in our photo albums than they do in the stress-filled days at work and home leading up to and following our time away. 

In a survey of 1,076 U.S. workers, 48 percent revealed that taking time off work for vacation causes more work-related stress, with another 23 percent admitting that they could not entirely disconnect from work while taking their vacation time. A Canadian survey by Skyscanner revealed that 50 percent of workers feel subject to vacation shaming at work, specifically when requesting time off and in the days leading up to their time away. It's no wonder people stress about their vacations!

Below are tips to help leaders in human capital management (HCM) and their teams reduce stress, unplug from work and feel empowered to enjoy their vacation time, even after their return.

Prepare for your time away well in advance

Scrambling around the week or days before you leave will stress you and your colleagues out. A good rule of thumb is to start laying the groundwork for your vacation time at least double the time in advance of how long you plan to be away. For example, if you are going away for a week, start preparing at work two weeks before. If you go away for two weeks, prioritize essential projects and make notes for colleagues a month before your vacation. If transitions back to work are stressful and you have enough vacation time, consider adding half a day to a day to get into the vacation rhythm slowly and then back into the swing of work.

Reach out to key stakeholders

Often, vacation requests are approved months in advance, meaning that even the people who have approved them may have forgotten about them. Ensure you notify your boss, coworkers and other key stakeholders before you leave. While some worry that informing someone of your absence will cause stress in these relationships, a simple email that informs your contacts of when you will be away and who will be filling in for you and asks them to reach out to you with any urgent matters in advance shows people your commitment to work and self-care.

Set two meetings with your handoff

In many businesses, there are sets of people who provide coverage for each other. If this is formalized, schedule a meeting with them at least a week before you go away. If it is not, determine who is best suited to fill this role, and connect. In this meeting, you'll highlight any key projects and issues they must monitor. Booking this meeting a week before you go away allows them to ask you questions before you are unreachable. Schedule a catch-up meeting with your handoff shortly following your return.

Make time for relaxation before you leave

Don't make the mistake of waiting for your vacation to de-stress. Self-care in the busy weeks before vacation will allow you to unwind while away. If you don't have the time for a massage or yoga class before you leave, spend a few minutes a day meditating and breathing deeply to de-stress. Sit up tall in a calm space, close your eyes and breathe deeply while focusing on the positive feelings you want to enjoy while away.

Compose your out-of-office message

This is often the last thing people do as they rush out the door. Take some time to craft this in advance to ensure there are no errors. Determine whether you will check or respond to emails while away, and note this in your message. As an HCM professional, you can create some templated out-of-office messaging for other staff to use. Before you leave, test your out-of-office response to ensure it is working.

While on vacation

If stressful thoughts or “to-dos” pop up in your head, keep a notebook to write them down. Then put them away and return to your vacation. If you have said that you won't be checking your email while away, don't! Someone will call you if there is a work emergency they can't handle.

If you have certain self-care habits that help you at home, don't ditch them because you're on vacation. If exercise helps you clear your brain fog and feel good, make it a priority while away.

Returning from vacation

Many people think vacation catch-up needs to happen in the first two or three days. It doesn't! Upon your return, attend the meeting you scheduled with your handoff designate and check in with your boss and other key stakeholders to determine anything that needs immediate attention. Use this information to create a list of post-vacation priorities.

Return to your pre-vacation meditations, and reflect on the best vacation experiences and personal and professional projects you're excited to dig into now that you're back. Remember to book vacations regularly to set an example for your team and get the break you need!

Have you experienced stress related to taking vacation time?

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