It’s that time of year when you can expect to see lots of Out Of Office email replies, conveying the message that the recipient can’t reply because they are enjoying their holidays.
But are they really?
Is there such a thing as a holiday any more?
The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted many areas of our lives. One of these is the way we work. Many companies now operate a hybrid working policy and employees increasingly expect to be able to work from anywhere.
But one of the growing issues with this is that the boundaries between work time and non-work time are becoming increasingly blurred, and making it difficult for many employees to take a break from work.
For example, around 75% of UK workers experience being contacted by either their boss or colleagues while on leave. This can be by phone, email, WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger.
And the traffic is not all one way. Two in three UK employees check their work emails when on leave, many of these regularly.
Some countries, including Ireland, have introduced a “right to disconnect” Code of Practice, to provide guidance to organisations as to how to ensure employees are not expected to stay in touch outside their normal working hours. But, even if we were to have such a right embedded into employment law in the UK, is it really possible to have a complete break from work in 2022?
In this article we look at two potential ways forward for your digital marketing agency in this dilemma. Ways in which you can ensure your employees do get proper down time, but also an inventive way of giving them the best of both worlds . . .
How to help your employees take a break
You need to have a working culture that actively encourages time off. After all, you don’t want to be a “lunch is for wimps” type of company do you? Your employees need to know that not only do you want them to work hard, but also to play hard.
Here are three ways to help you do this:
Have you thought about a company shutdown? Think Hubspot. They introduced Global Days of Rest in 2020, and recently had a Global Week of Rest – a company holiday week for most employees to take time off and recharge. A few skeleton staff were present that week, to sort out any urgent customer-facing issues. They will take their Week of Rest at a later date. But the aim of the Global Week of Rest was to help employees to take the opportunity to rest and relax, and come back refreshed and ready to help Hubspot continue to move forward.
You may not feel that a complete shutdown would work for your digital marketing agency. Interestingly Hubspot’s take on this was that the advance notice they gave to customers – alongside empowering them to set key goals that they can achieve themselves – meant that Hubspot employees did not return to chaos.
But if a week still seems out of the question, then how about a Day of Rest? Some companies create a company holiday on a Friday or Monday, particularly in those long months with no Bank Holidays. Or why not consider banning meetings on Friday afternoons, enabling employees to clock off early and enjoy the Friday vibe? There are lots of possibilities if you are committed to the concept of joint down time.
Walk the talk
You can’t expect your employees to enjoy guilt-free holidays if you are not modelling this yourself. Which means that you need to take time off too. Proper time off – with no contact via email, phone or social media. Demonstrate that sometimes work can wait.
Talk openly about your plans, whether you are going on an exotic or adventurous holiday or just taking time off to stay home and do absolutely nothing. You need to model and reinforce the message that time off is good, and it’s yours to do with as you choose.
Show your employees that it’s ok to be kind to yourself. There is life outside work, and it’s there to be enjoyed!
What could possibly go wrong? If your answer to that is unprintable, it could mean it’s time to take a good hard look at your leadership and delegation skills, and/or the competence of your employees. And, of course, it’s also vital to have robust absence cover procedures in place. Let’s take a look.
Have robust absence cover procedures
For an employee to really enjoy their holiday, they need the reassurance that they won’t be returning to any major crises and/or a huge pile of catch up work. You need to make sure you have their back. Three ways to help with this are:
- Set up a work buddy system so that every employee has a reliable back-up who is familiar with their work and can competently cover their workload when they are away.
- Encourage your employee to inform regular clients that they will be on holiday (no shame!) and giving details of who to contact in case of anything urgent.
- As well as an email Out of Office, set up email forwarding so that emails are dealt with by others during the employee’s absence rather than stacking up for their return.
Introducing . . . . the workcation
Another trend that you may want to adopt in your digital marketing agency is the workcation.
A workcation is not a proper holiday, and not a substitute for one. But if your company actively embraces hybrid and/or remote working, it could be a real incentive for your employees.
A workcation is a natural extension of the “work-from-anywhere” phenomenon that emerged during the pandemic. If an employee is fulfilling their obligations and is there when you need them, does it matter where they are actually working from?
This means that if an employee wants a change of scenery they could book a holiday property somewhere, continue to work, but also in their down time enjoy exploring somewhere new. Or if someone needs to be in another part of the country for a while for family reasons, they could go and stay there, but still continue working as needed.
Encouraging the concept of workcations demonstrates a high level of trust between employer and employee. It is likely that on some days during a workcation, you may not actually get full working hours from your employee. But does that matter? If they deliver everything they are supposed to, and are available when you need them, do you really want to count every working minute? Because, if so, should that not also apply the other way round when they are working all hours on a pitch, new website or product launch.
Workcations can be a huge incentive to your employees, knowing that they are “allowed” to be wherever they want to be as long as they keep performing as needed. Workcations can also bring a tremendous sense of release to those employees – perhaps particularly creatives – who can feel trapped by the traditional constraints of full time working but equally are prepared to give 110% when needed.
Overall, workcations are a very strong asset in the work-life balance toolkit.
So, when considering whether there is such a thing as a holiday any more, the answer lies within you. You can empower your employees to have proper holidays once again, and you can also incentivise them by encouraging workcations. But don’t fall into the trap of expecting them to adopt a halfway house approach – ie take proper leave but still keep in touch with work – as that is truly the worst of both worlds.