How to Manage Teams While Employees Are on Vacation

Business owners don't have to keep vacationing employees glued to their laptops and phones to manage teams. It can just take planning and strategy.
July 12, 2017

Employees often take their vacation in the summer. This can be great for a business in the long term since vacations can give people a chance to come back recharged. But it can also be difficult to manage teams and keep the company operating smoothly without a full staff. 

The following steps can help keep teams from falling behind during this time of year, or whenever there are team members out of office.

1. Manage employees' vacation requests.

It's probably not practical for everyone to ask for the same vacation time and expect to still keep the business running. 

Consider having a vacation request policy where team members need to officially ask for time off well in advance and with the approval of their manager. This can be done on a first-come, first-served basis, or the employee who gets to choose vacation days first can rotate every year among the staff. 

There can also be incentives given to employees who work during the most popular vacation times or, alternately, there can be blackout periods for busy times when no vacation is permitted.

2. Provide advance training to staff for backup.

Consider making it standard practice that there's always a person (or two) who can do another team member's job when they are on vacation, out ill or resign. Training can be provided long before the employee's vacation is on the calendar.

The employee may have to work hard before they go on vacation to ensure that their team can get their goals completed while he or she is away.

This is one way to manage teams and can help prevent any one person from becoming a bottleneck for the business

3. Encourage team members to delegate amongst themselves.

Some team members may think that they are the only ones who can do their job—that while they are on vacation, things can “just wait." This can be a short-sighted way to manage teams because this one person can become a bottleneck for productivity.

Consider teaching employees how to delegate their responsibilities to other team members so their department can run more smoothly even when they are not there.

4. Ask for a checklist from the employee on vacation.

Before an employee leaves on vacation, consider asking them to share with the rest of the team (not just their manager) their “in progress" work, key contacts, priority files and critical deadlines. Each member of the team can then be responsible for one or more outstanding issues until the vacationing employee returns.

5. Encourage collaboration amongst team members.

It's acceptable to want an employee to still get their team's work done while they are away. (This does not include an expectation that they will work while on vacation since it defeats the purpose.) 

However, the employee may have to work hard before they go on vacation to ensure that their team can get their goals completed while he or she is away. Assigning the vacationing employee's inbox to another team member to monitor and respond can also help reduce bottlenecks. This type of collaboration and shared responsibility can help leaders manage teams better even when a member is not on vacation.

6. Share the responsibility of ensuring no one gets bothered on vacation.

It can be helpful when the entire team believes that they are jointly responsible for another team member to have a restful vacation. That's because when any one person goes on vacation, they can trust that their fellow employees will pitch in so they are not interrupted.

It may also be beneficial to do a post mortem when key employees get back from vacation to see how well it all worked.

7. Manage teams by shutting down.

The last alternative is doing a full-scale shutdown. Some companies actually force all employees to take time off by closing their business during certain weeks of the summer and in December. They do this if it is typically a slow time of the year for their business, or if closing shop would enable them to service their customers with less employee vacation interruptions the remainder of the year.

On a related note, managers need to lead by example and also take vacations. This can actually be a great way to manage teams since it tests all the above guidelines. and can show which one makes the most sense for the company.

Read more articles on work-life balance.

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