Hello on phone sitting on desk

Communication pitfalls to avoid when taking time off

11 min read
Jayson DeMers

Taking time away from work, whether you're vacationing in an exotic destination or just chilling out at home for a few days, is vital to stay healthy and maximize your career potential.

But while you are perfectly entitled to take time off, it's important to communicate with your employees, bosses, and clients effectively – both in the weeks leading up to your vacation and during the vacation itself.

Below, we’ll discuss some of the communication pitfalls to avoid when taking time off work and why it matters.

Why taking time off is so important

person in hammock on beach

Before diving into common communication pitfalls to avoid, you should first learn why taking time off is helpful in the first place.

Ambitious entrepreneurs and career-minded professionals often see vacations as a kind of liability. They might think:

If I spend too much time away from work, I’m being unproductive.

I worry that someone else may take over some of my responsibilities, ones I may never get back

People who take vacations are lazy, meaning they're less likely to get raises and promotions.

Unfortunately, in the United States, our aggressive work culture makes us biased when it comes to perceiving the value of vacations. Every year, we waste hundreds of millions of vacation days collectively, representing an opportunity cost of $65.5 billion.

The truth is, taking time off is highly beneficial – both to you and your organization. Consider the following benefits of taking time off.

Stress relief

The most obvious benefit, and the one you likely thought of first, is stress relief. Putting in full-time hours, week after week, with no interruption between your responsibilities can be mentally and emotionally draining.

Even if you love your work, it's going to take its toll on you over time.

Taking a vacation is a great way to relieve stress and return to your job with a fresh mind. In fact, taking time off is the only practical way to prevent burnout.

New perspectives

Taking time off also gives you an opportunity to develop new perspectives. Vacationing to different areas gives you exposure to different cultures.

But even staying home and spending time with family lets you see the world in a different way.

When your life isn't consumed with work, you can figure out what's important and what's holding you back.

Opportunities for learning and growth

Similarly, time off can be a great opportunity for learning and growth. Depending on your priorities, you could use your time to:

  • Meet new people
  • Visit new places
  • Develop new skills
  • Learn something entirely novel

Ultimately, that could help you advance your career further or figure out that you want to start a new career.

Reducing dependencies

If you're an entrepreneur or a leader in your organization, you might scoff at the idea of taking a step back — especially when remembering you have an entire team depending on you.

But that dependency isn't necessarily a good thing.

If your team members are too reliant on your direction or your leadership, your organization isn’t going to run as effectively as it could.

Taking time off and allowing other people to take over your responsibilities, or deal with your absence, can reduce those dependencies and encourage your business to run more efficiently.

Long-term career benefits

It may feel like stepping away from work is a bad thing for your productivity and reputation, but the opposite appears to be true.

According to Harvard Business Review, employees who take regular vacation days tend to be 31 percent more productive when they return to work.

They’re also 6.5 percent more likely to get a raise or promotion than their non-vacationing counterparts. Thanks to the above benefits and others, taking time off work almost always results in positive career momentum.

7 communication pitfalls to avoid when taking time off

Of course, if you’re going to realize the full benefits of taking time off work, you need to know the common communication pitfalls to avoid. That means:

  • Clearly articulating when you're going to take a vacation
  • Setting expectations for how that vacation is going to go
  • Communicating effectively (or not at all) while you're away from work

Keep reading to learn some tips on how to help you do it.

1. Plan your vacation wisely

Take your time when planning your vacation is one of the first communication pitfalls to avoid. Taking the right amount of vacation days during the right time is key. For example, many employees in the United States take time off at the end of the year, during the holiday season.

If you also plan a vacation during this time, you might be able to take advantage of a slow time. This means scheduling time off when people won't be working as much — thus reducing the number of times people reach out to you.

The flip side is, with fewer people running things, there may be more issues that need to be resolved. Make sure you consider your business’ busy periods, common vacation times, and other variables before you finalize vacation plans.

2. Communicate your upcoming absence early

If you have a role that requires you to communicate with people frequently, it's important to start communicating your upcoming absence as early as possible.

Don't spontaneously take off next week and expect things to go smoothly.

Instead, let your employees, clients, and other professional contacts know that you're going to take a vacation several weeks in advance.

As the time gets closer to your actual vacation, you could even send reminder messages.

3. Set proactive expectations for your employees

If you're in a position of authority, spend some time before your vacation setting expectations for you team. Everyone is going to have different personal preferences and different outlooks on what “vacation” truly means.

So, you're going to need to define your expectation in concrete terms if possible. You can ask yourself the following questions to establish your own set of boundaries:

  • How often do you plan on checking your email? Do you even plan on checking it at all?
  • During what hours are you going to be available for phone calls?
  • Who is going to be in charge of making decisions while you're away?

Remember, communication is key. You’ll want to ensure your employees understand what to do in your absence.

4. Train, educate and document

If you have some responsibilities that can't be handled by other people, or aren't currently handled by other people, you could consider delegating your work. Another option is to distribute the work to a different team working in tandem with you.

Otherwise, you may need to invest in:

  • Training
  • Education
  • Documentation

Again, your goal is to make the organization run as smoothly as possible while you're away.

Make sure your responsibilities are handled by the people you trust.

Spend some time working with the people who are going to step in and cover your responsibilities while you’re away. You’ll want to make sure they understand how to execute those responsibilities ahead of time to ensure everything runs smoothly.

As a layer of added security, you can write up standard operating procedures (SOPs). This will prepare your team with resources they can consult if they run into any issues.

5. Provide alternate contact information

It's also important to provide alternative contact information to anybody who might need to reach you while you're away. This is especially important for clients who may have questions about your services or the projects you're currently working on.

Consider the following questions:

  • Who should your clients reach out to you on your team while you’re away?
  • Is there a leader within your organization who can field questions from your employees and team members?

Make sure to equip your team with all the right tools before you depart.

6.    Set up an away message

Most employees understand the importance of setting up an away message in their email platform of choice. The idea here is simple: provide a concise, yet clear message informing email senders that you're currently away. It also explains why they shouldn’t expect a response from you until you return.

Good out of office messages tend to be brief, professional, and to the point.

A simple statement like this works perfectly fine:

“Hello! Thanks for reaching out to me, but I'm currently on vacation and am not responding to emails. I will return on _____. If you need anything in the meantime, please reach out to _____.”

Do make sure you list the contact information of an alternative source that people can reach. You can set up an automatic vacation reply with these instructions from Gmail or Outlook.

7.    Foster a culture that sees vacation in a healthy light

Finally, take steps to help shape your organizational culture to see vacation in a healthy light. Taking a vacation doesn’t make you lazy or selfish. It’s an important part of a healthy work culture that can:

  • Reduce your stress
  • Improve your physical and mental health
  • Make the entire organization stronger

Feel confident in your decision to take time off and set your team up for success by reviewing the common communication pitfalls to avoid on this list.

The importance of being (mostly) unreachable

Sometimes, the best way to communicate on vacation is to not communicate at all. The whole point of taking time off work is to get away from work. Can you really say that you're on vacation if you’re:

  • Continuing to answer emails
  • Picking up the phone when people call you
  • Sorting out other people’s problems

These days, 62 percent of vacationing professionals in the United States regularly “check in” with work during their time off, negating at least some of the benefits of their vacation.

If you don't completely detach your mind from your workplace environment, you're going to benefit far less mentally from your vacation.

Try to remain totally disconnected. It's okay to check your email or place a phone call to see how things are going, as long as they happen on your terms. Otherwise, people should only expect to reach you if it's a true emergency.

How to keep an emergency line open

So what about those emergencies?

While most of your workplace communication should be set to the side while you're vacationing, it can be a good idea to keep an emergency line open.

This way, if there's a total catastrophe while you're gone, or if there’s a problem that no one else can solve, you can step in to try and resolve things.

Let’s take a look at some of the best ways to do it.

Define what constitutes an “emergency”

Before you leave, make sure you define what constitutes an emergency. You don't want a panicked employee calling you every 10 minutes because they don't know what else to do or because they know you're going to give them a convenient and quick answer to a question they have.

How bad do things have to be before someone picks up the phone and tries to reach you?

Use the right tools

Next, consider using a tool to help you facilitate better emergency communication.

For example, GoDaddy’s SmartLine app allows you to set up an entirely separate phone number, complete with its own operating business hours.

You can even set up “Do Not Disturb” hours so the number is only reachable when you make the decision. This way, your employees will still have a line where they can reach you, but you remain in total control of how that line is used.

Check in on your terms

Definitely feel free to check in with your employees and coworkers periodically throughout your vacation, as long as you're doing it on your terms.

If you have some extra time in the morning and you haven't heard anything for a few days, make a phone call and see what's going on – especially if it makes you feel better about the situation. As long as your check-ins don’t come to dominate your time away from the office, you'll be in good shape.

Don't let a fear of miscommunication or missed opportunities get in the way of you taking a vacation.

On a personal level, you probably deserve it. Even if you doubt that, research suggests that both you and your organization are going to benefit if you take regular days off.

And if you follow the strategies in this article, you won't have to compromise the value of your vacation. Simply refer to this list of communication pitfalls to avoid whenever you need to prep.