Really enjoying your vacation—and keeping the good vibes flowing when you’re back in the office—begins with how well you delegate work before you leave, according to this enlightening piece in the Harvard Business Review.
Carol A. Walker, president of the management consulting firm Prepared to Lead, starts the piece by presenting a common problem: returning from vacation only to find that the work you’d asked your coworkers or direct reports to handle hasn’t been touched.
The problem, according to Walker, is that most of us don’t really understand what it means to delegate. At its core, delegating means “empowering another person to do something,” Walker explains, but often, “managers confuse true delegation with simply asking staff members to do things.” While Walker writes specifically about how managers should delegate tasks, the solutions she proposes are worthwhile for vacation-inclined employees (which we should all be) at any job level.
The way people often delegate (like sending a few hasty ‘hey, can you handle this while I’m out?’ emails) leaves colleagues tasked with an assignment that isn’t theirs, usually without context or any obvious benefit for their own job growth. As Walker writes, it’s unrealistic to expect people to prioritize or work hard on that task under such circumstances.
To avoid this—and get the most out of your vacation knowing that your work is under control—start by breaking down the work that needs to be done in your absence into separate parts. Walker uses an engineering manager as an example: one might focus on how “task prioritization, programming, quality control, and client communication all affect one another and the overall effectiveness of the department,” she writes, before handing out specific assignments.
Next, match each part with a suitable person for the job. To actually make an effective match, you need to link the task to a coworker’s development, not just who has the bandwidth and is capable of getting it done. If you do that, the assignment “is far more likely to be embraced with an eye toward ownership than a task that appears to be handed out with a focus only on lightening your own load,” Walker explains.
Finally, when you’re actually discussing the task, make sure you provide context, explain any critical deadlines and how they fit into big picture goals and use language that emphasizes how much you care about their success and overall development, Walker writes.
Walker’s strategy makes sense: by reframing what you need to get done as something that benefits everyone—and your company as a whole—you’re not just asking someone to handle your work while you go recharge. Instead, you reframe the ask as a worthwhile collaboration that helps the entire team.
Hopefully these tips make your return to the office smooth sailing. Of course actually unplugging while on vacation is another story, and an essential one at that (for more on how to do this, read here and here). But by making sure everything is buttoned up at work before you go, and trusting your coworkers to have your back, it’ll be a lot easier to resist checking your work email when you should be reading on a beach somewhere.
Read more on Harvard Business Review.