Many executives fail to take vacations

Pat worked at such a frantic pace to get ready for her vacation, she came down with the flu and spent her free time in bed.

Wally never takes more than a day or two off at a time, even though he has four weeks of vacation.

While on vacation, Paula calls in to the office at least twice a day and spends hours relaying detailed instructions to her employees.

Vacations are supposed to help you relax and forget job pressures. But getting loose ends tied up before you leave and worrying that the place will fall apart while you're away can cause the opposite reaction.

Maybe that's why so many top managers avoid vacations altogether. According to a recent survey by Goodrich and Sherwood Company, management consultants in New York, 63 percent of the executives questioned took less than half of the four to five weeks to which they were entitled. Only 17 percent regularly used up their yearly vacation days.

Another survey conducted by TeleSearch, a national executive search firm in Natik, Massachusetts, found that only 33 percent of the managers interviewed take all their vacation time.

This behavior, however loyal it seems, isn't necessarily a good management strategy. In the article, "Stress: The Test Americans are Failing" (Business Week, April 18, 1988), the authors point out that, "Mental health experts estimate that as many as 15 percent of executives and managers suffer from depression or critical levels of stress that will eventually affect their job performance."

The cost to business of stress-related problems and mental illness is estimated at $150 billion annually in health insurance and disability claims.

In this age of mergers, lay-offs and flattening organizations, managers appear to be the victims of vacation anxiety. Here are some tips to try so you can play in peace:

·        Show your assistant where your files are located so that he or she can find information in a hurry.

·        Make a status list of hot projects and who is working on them.

·        Go over this list with your assistant or the entire staff if they work closely with one another.

·        Ask your assistant not to schedule any meetings for the day you return. Ask him or her to plan on giving you a complete briefing the first morning you're back.

·        If you don't have an assistant who sorts your mail, ask a co-worker to help you out. Use different colored folders marked, "Urgent," "Important but not Immediate" and "Miscellaneous." This will help you to regain control of your desk quickly when you return, rather than spending hours going through your in-basket.

·        Let your assistant know which items he or she is NOT to handle. A good assistant may try to make a decision on a project with the best intentions but inadvertently mess it up.

·        Name someone who will be in charge while you are gone. This could be your boss, a peer or a subordinate. (If your boss likes to meddle or you've been having problems with a certain project, don't ask your boss to take over.) If you have a subordinate who demonstrates good leadership skills, this may be the perfect chance to provide an excellent development experience.

·        If you have an answering machine on your phone, change your message to explain when you'll be back in the office and who to contact for immediate help.

·        If you have many visitors each day, consider putting a note on your desk or office door stating when you'll be back.

·        Consider delegating more tasks than usual a few weeks prior to your departure, rather than waiting until your last day in the office. Employees will have more chance to ask you questions and you will have more time to work ahead on your projects.

·        Resist the urge to call in if you can. Your employees may hesitate to go ahead with a task because they are waiting for your instructions.

·        If necessary, give your assistant your number. Be specific about what kind of problem warrants a call.

Most important, don't wait for a vacation to develop independent employees. Thinking you're too important to take a vacation is a sign that you aren't in control of your job as a manager. If you set clear expectations about the results you expect, coach your employees enough to know how they are doing and trust them to succeed, you will be able to enjoy a worry free vacation that is well earned.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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