Americans (and many Europeans) are ready to start traveling again. Think back to the days of your last vacations. How many times did hit the road to finally enjoy for some much-needed time off of work, only to hear the dreaded BING of an incoming work email or text message? Cringing at the thought of what might be going wrong in your absence, you respond immediately. Situation resolved and back to vacation mode! BING!!

I know you’re no stranger to this situation. For those working adults who are actually lucky enough to take a few vacation days here and there, most have experienced this. It can be a real buzzkill. If you don’t want to repeat these past travel experiences in your future, here is how to be fully out of office on your next trip.

The Sad Truth

Not long ago, a new report came out indicating that 768 million vacation days went unused in the United States in 2018. 768,000,000 days! Holy cow!! That is both sad and shocking to me.

For most of my professional life, I have worked as a recruiter in Human Resources. When making job offers, I love to share the time off benefits with prospective new employees. As a travel lover, it pains me to know that so many days typically go unused here in the States.

Work is has a very important role in people’s lives. But I have very strong feelings about the role that the “rest of life” has in people’s lives. One of the many benefits of travel is that we learn how small our place in the world really is.

There are many reasons days go unused. More often than not, people just cannot get away from the office. But that’s time in your life you can never get back. Time to make new memories, have once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and enrich your life. Many of the skills you learn traveling can help you at work too! It is possible to travel more while holding down a full time job. You can get ideas and guidance for learning this skill here. But, is it possible to actually take your precious leave time and not be interrupted?

But There’s Something More To Think About

For those people who cannot roll unused vacation time over from year to year, there is also a financial cost to letting those paid days off go to waste.

Not sure how to calculate this? If you work a full time, 40 hour a week job, that equals 2080 hours worked per year. If you are a salaried employee, take your annual salary and divide it by 2080. This will give you your hourly pay rate. Once you have your pay rate, multiply that by the number of unused vacation hours. This is how much money you are losing from your total compensation package.

Those paid time off benefits are an important part of your agreement to work at your company. We spend so much time each year at work, it is so important to take time off for yourself, even if its just a staycation. I am certain not a single person would be ok with telling their employer to just keep a part of their paycheck… that it’s “not needed”. Why in the world are people so willing to give up part of their benefits AND part of their life?

Clearly, there is an issue with people not using their allotted vacation days. When we are already cutting ourselves short, is it fair to allow work to encroach its way in when actually trying to utilize vacation time?

The Dreaded Work Call/Text

Let’s say that you’re one of the lucky ones who uses their vacation time. But, like the example above, you are often contacted by your employer during your precious time off. Yes, sometimes true emergencies do happen. But, most things are not true emergencies and can either be handled by a colleague or can wait until your return.

Figuring out how to approach this can be a balancing act. Rest assured, there are several methods you can implement to lessen the chance you will be interrupted during your trip. We are going to share these ideas here!

Look Ahead

Keeping in mind that it is beneficial to inform your colleagues of your upcoming absence, it is best to look ahead and do some advanced planning. Check for upcoming deadlines and job-related activities that will occur around the time of your vacation. This will help with planning and general prepardeness.

Inform Your Colleagues

I make it a point to inform my colleagues about my upcoming absence. Due to the nature of my job, I try to do this a few weeks in advance. I’m not just talking about people in my office. I let people from other departments whom I frequently work with in on the news as well. This might light a fire in them to get some things taken care of prior to departing. When you notify them, be sure to provide the contact information of people who can assist them if needed.

Work Ahead

Now that you’ve informed your stakeholders that you will be out and have a general idea of things that are coming down the pike, get a jump on everything you can. The key to this is getting as much done as possible without adding extra stress to yourself.

Update Your Notes

If you have time, be sure to update any notes you might have about your job functions and processes. Think of it like a “how-to” guide. Share these notes with your colleagues or boss. There is no reason to feel territorial with sharing this information. This will allow them to step in and take care of business without having to call you for questions. And trust me, having some things taken care of by your colleagues will also take stress off you once you return.

Make A List

I always make a detailed list of things I know will occur or that my colleagues might encounter during my time away. This needs to be detailed. Think “who, when, where, what, why, and how”. Details really matter here! I share this in staff meetings and email it to whoever is covering me. I also make sure to sit down and discuss things that might be a bit more complicated.

Set Your Out Of Office Greetings

Pop open your email settings and type up your automated response for any messages you get during your time away. I always make sure to include the following:

  • The dates that I will be gone
  • A notation that I will not be checking messages during my absence
  • The names and phone numbers of anyone who can provide assistance if necessary
  • A statement that I will respond upon my return

Once your email out of office settings are turned on, you will need to record a message with the same information on your voicemail. In the event that you have an extremely awesome coworker who will be taking your calls in the interim, make sure to properly forward your phone to them.

Check Out Fully

While controversial, I do not feel *most* people should have contact with the office while on vacation. To check out fully, don’t check in. The point of vacation is to get away for a period of time. How can you recharge or enjoy your trip if you essentially bring work with you? I do not check in on voicemails or emails when I am on paid vacation time. I recognize this luxury and forever appreciate my boss for allowing this. Some may not be as lucky, but try to truly disconnect. Take your email off your phone too!

And, should a colleague reach out to you, do not respond unless it is a true emergency. If you respond to minor things, you have set the precedent that you are okay being disrupted during time off.

Say Thank You

Be sure to thank your co-workers for their help while you are gone. Letting people know you appreciate their help goes a long way. You might even consider picking them up a little something during your trip to give them as a token of gratitude upon your return.

Return The Favor

If you have a colleague who helps you during your vacation time, offer to help them out with things during theirs. Building a reciprocal relationship is great teamwork and helps make vacation days a bit easier for everyone in the office.

Again, we know it can be difficult to manage. But, it is important to fully get out of the office! By following these steps, you will be able to enjoy the precious vacation days you actually take with fewer work interruptions.

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  1. Great post. You are so right! It is extremely important to take time off properly. It is great for one’s health and I am positive it makes you more productive after you have had a break from the office. Life has to be a balance.

  2. I remember most of my working life how hard it was to disconnect and be “out of office”. Even now, I struggle with blogging and social media. But I do recognize how important it is to get away. And to truly be in the moment when you are travelling. One year when I was working I truly did not look at my email. And it amazed me how many things resolved themselves when people had to figure it out. Brought a new perspective to me. I love your reminder about saying Thank You to the people who pick up the slack when you are gone. And the importance of returning the favour. Some great tips here.

  3. This is so important & it’s unbelievable to think how many days are left unused. In my old job as a sales manager I would always make sure I delegated to one of my team as a developmental role for them. Then with a manager friend we had a reciprocal agreement to be there as a sounding board for each others delegated reps while we were away. There was never any need to be contacted while I was off. It was the perfect agreement!

  4. My job isn’t important enough for me to be contacted while I’m away from the office, but I do feel for people who can never get a true vacation because they’re always needed by someone. These are really great tips on how to deal with that!

  5. The number of unused vacation days in the U.S. is truly sad. When I worked a full-time, corporate job that was never my problem. And your tips for being truly out of the office are really important–thanks for sharing!

  6. This is SUCH good (and important) advice. I really appreciate that my current employer really supports us disconnecting. And not just when we’re out of the office on paid leave, but also over each weekend. It makes such a big difference in being able to focus on interests outside of work, rest, and restore.

  7. Being able to fully relax and enjoy your vacation is so important but it has sadly become the norm in Australia to still be contactable – not me though!! I have a separate work phone which is left at home, all work handed over and the out-of-office switched on my email with no option to be contacted! Companies need to get better at resourcing so more people can actually take leave!

  8. So so true! I always check out completely when on vacation. It’s so important to leave work at work. That way you can really be present and enjoy your surroundings.

  9. This is great advice, especially the reminder to truly ‘check out’. It’s so important to do this so you can recharge and enjoy your vacation.

  10. Great post and action plans, my husband usually turns his phone off when we are on holiday so it is a true break…We have mine which is a personal one and as he says I am the only one he’d phone from it ha ha

  11. The live to work mentality in the US is insane. And I think the fact that you’ve had to write this post pretty much confirms that. In Ireland, being contacted by your employer when on holiday leave is an absolute no-no. You’ve offered great tips on how to brief colleagues before taking holiday leave. Thanks for sharing this.

  12. This is so true. When I ran a law office I would have to work so hard before I left to get my work done ahead of time, check in while I was away just to make sure everything was okay, and then work so hard when I got back to make up what I missed. I took a week off but still had to do that week’s work before/during/after the trip. Thank you for the reminder of how important it is to truly be out of office.

  13. I absolutely agree with this article. I don’t open emails when I’m off work, and don’t respond to work calls. I also don’t harass others when they’re off, not even the 3rd party contractors (or maybe especially, because of the power imbalance). I think if a department is well run in the first place, things should potter along just fine in the period when people are off, since their cover should be well able to handle it.

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