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Talent Advisory Board: Taking a Vacation in the Always-Connected Manufacturing World (Part 1 of 3)

The IndustryWeek Talent Advisory Board offers monthly advice on how its members got to where they are in the manufacturing world. They offered so much great advice for June that we're breaking it into two parts, with about half of the responses running Thursday, July 27, 2023, and about half running Friday, July 28, 2023. On Monday, July 31, we'll run a thorough response to the topic from Billy Ray Taylor. If you have a question for the group, please send it to [email protected]. This month's question was:

Let’s talk vacation: How do you handle the demands of the modern, always-connected workplace when you’re supposed to be resting and relaxing? And, what benefits do you get from taking time off from working?

Fighting Anxiety Before and After Vacation

Kathy Perry, Manager of Human Resources, Orlando Baking Co.

I take vacation very seriously. In a role that is always demanding of me, it is important for me to decompress and utilize my away time because it gives me perspective and it helps me maintain an approachable disposition.

Just because we are in Human Resources, we’re no different than anyone else. We are unable to turn the faucet off when there are critical needs that we must perform for the organization. We too experience bad days, anxiety and stress. This is why I prioritize my time away.

If you cannot provide yourself with a balance of hard work and downtime, you could burn out or, even worse, open the door to discontent or loss of interest. How many times have we stood in line to hear a grumpy worker complain about long days and waiting to get off. It’s not a good exchange for anyone—me or them! All that they want is to be gone…and it shows!

When staff need to see me, when I need to correct behavior, when I need to participate in a meeting, I want to bring my “best me” along.  I am not at my best when I am stretched thin. PTO doesn’t need to be restricted to a vacation, it can come in handy for mental respite as well.

But candidly, I admit that there is anxiety when it comes time to prepare to take time off. If I leave these emails unaddressed, they will become an avalanche once I hit power on the computer! I often fight back, and just reply to an email or two. But, if you’re responding, you are, you are still working.

What works best for me is a true game of balance. I adjust my calendar by blocking off hours at the end my workday prior to me leaving, and I try to return with another block on my calendar which would allow me time to catch up on critical emails or address important details. This helps me to feel more prepared and less anxious to return.

Your burnout affects your family and friends and those around you that have nothing to do with work. It is important to remember that we are working to live, not living to work.

Build Processes for Time Away

Tara Binn, Process Improvement Specialist, Bakelite Synthetics

When I first started in the Operations Manager role, I struggled to take extended time off. The role had a lot of outdated processes and siloed knowledge that did not facilitate processes in support of time away and being fully disconnected.

So, early on, I was incentivized personally to create sustainable processes in support of being able to take time off and make my job more efficient overall. From a business perspective, it is critical to have those processes in place for continuity for the inevitable transitions in personnel.

Taking time off work for me is time to recharge, rest and let the mind operate in a new mode to come back with a fresh perspective. Time away is not always restful, but it can be rewarding whether traveling abroad or working on a house project. It is part of the overall needs as a human and what you find fulfilling, which in the end makes you a more balanced and impactful employee.

Hybrid Time: Check the Occasional Email

Bill Scilingo, Vice President of Operations, Penn Color Inc.

Several studies have found that time off from work is an essential means toward increased productivity and overall health. Whether it is time spent with loved ones, friends, family members or even alone, time away from work has proven to reduce stress levels, prevent burnout and provide better job satisfaction. 

I have also found that removing myself from the tactical, daily work challenges has not only allowed for more strategic reflection and creativity, but also increased excitement and appreciation of the value of my team’s work post time off. Analogous is observed increases in an athlete’s effectiveness upon the return from competition by choice or injury. 

As this month’s topic highlights, though, removing oneself from the direct interaction of work in today’s always-connected workplace has become challenging.  In discussion with other professionals, opinions regarding staying fully connected or completely disconnecting often yields emotional and highly varied responses. In my opinion, full connectivity, or participation in meetings during holiday is not merited.  However, being a thirty-year operations vet, I have also been conditioned that there is no such thing as full disconnect. 

My preferred approach is a managed hybrid of connectivity with defined allowances for engagement with work while on leave.  This constitutes 30 minutes in the morning while having coffee and 30 minutes at night prior to retiring for the evening.  This approach allows me to not only stay somewhat connected but also provides the ability to remove extraneous emails to allow for quicker reintroduction upon return, while allowing for proper interaction with my family. 

Is my approach the correct approach?  This is obviously debatable.  Key, in my opinion, is to do what is best for you to allow for your personal mental health relief.  If you are not fully refreshed upon returning from time off, reevaluate your connectivity during the period.  Relax, enjoy, and reflect during your time away and you will most definitely be more healthy, engaged, and focused when reconnecting fully.

Does the Boss Ever Really Get a Vacation?

Tim Noble, President and Recruiter for Lean-Six Sigma-Industry 4.0-Operations, The Avery Point Group Inc.

Taking vacations as a business owner is always a challenge, especially when the business’s revenue is directly correlated with your involvement and activity. I started my executive search firm almost 20 years ago so I could have more time with my family, as I noted in one of my previous posting comments. But, owning your own business can be a dual-edged sword. On the one hand, it can give you a lot of flexibility, but on the other hand, you can’t always manage the demands on your time when they are dictated by client or customer engagements.

Since my client engagements are not always “scheduled events”, over time, I have had to get creative when it comes to vacations and taking time away from work to recharge. Week-long vacations can be the toughest to navigate, especially If I get a new client or search engagement. With these engagements, time is of the essence in serving clients that have immediate needs. In those situations, you can’t just push off the work to the next week. 

Over time our family has found that a week or more at the beach, where we rent a house or condo right on the beach, has afforded us a lot of flexibility and space to meet everyone’s vacation needs. We all get time to enjoy the beach, eating out and enjoying each other’s company. In those settings, I can usually carve out time to take care of my client’s work between family events and still attend to the tasks needed.  It takes being very focused on my part to maximize my time and flexibility to make sure work is not dominating family time.  It also takes a very understanding family that knows my effort helps create the means to take vacations in the first place. It takes a balanced approach by all involved. 

From a downtime and recharging perspective, because I own my own business, I can be more flexible and spontaneous when it comes to family engagements throughout the year. This allows us to take mini vacations that bridge the weekends and time away from work during the week if needed. That flexibility throughout the year more than makes up for the time that I may have to work during a scheduled week-long family vacation. In the end, it’s all about finding what works for you and your family, and the core of that process is being flexible while still meeting everyone’s needs because that’s what families do.

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