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Talent Advisory Board: Taking a Vacation in the Always-Connected Manufacturing World (Part 2 of 3)

July 28, 2023
Manufacturing professionals share how they get away from the office (or stay in touch) to answer our July Talent Board question.

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?

Set Expectations and Stay Away! (Except for Emergencies)

Tami Wolownik, Head of People & Organization, North America, at Siemens Mobility

I always look forward to the summer and time by the pool and lake with my family, but between emails, texts and Microsoft Teams messages—the list goes on and on—it can be challenging to actually disconnect from work. 

Many of us can now work from anywhere and at any time, which improves flexibility but blurs the lines of when the workday ends and personal time begins. This is problematic because time away from work is crucial. It gives you an opportunity to rest and reset, coming back more focused and motivated.

Since the pandemic, I’ve continued emphasize to my team that checking emails or joining calls while on vacation prevents you from returning to work feeling fully refreshed. To avoid burnout, we all need to take time to prioritize ourselves. For me, this means taking PTO on most Fridays in the summer so that I can enjoy my pool and the lake that I live on. Most of the time, I am too on the go to enjoy these, but on Fridays during the summer, I remind myself of the need to slow down and relax.

To be able to truly relax, my top tip is to set expectations with your team before you leave. Be clear that your access to email will be limited and you won’t be checking messages regularly. Then turn off your laptop and enjoy the moment! You won’t have to worry because you’ve already let your team know you won’t be available.

If you have a large team and are concerned about something going wrong while you’re out of office, give your employees one way to contact you in case of emergency (i.e., phone call). That way you can tune out anything that can wait until you get back, but also stay informed if necessary.

I also encourage you to simply trust your team! Empower one of your employees to take the lead while you’re out and consider it a growth opportunity. Chances are that your team members will want this time to apply their skills and step out of their comfort zone.

It’s difficult to disconnect these days, but beyond worth it. If you truly take the time to relax and reset on your vacation, odds are you’ll come back to work ready to bring your best with new ideas and a clear mind. I know I always do!

Recharge Your Batteries

Paul Baldassari, Executive Vice President of Worldwide Operations, Flex

The daily grind wears you out over time – vacation is a great way to recharge your batteries and reflect.

Especially on family vacation, take some core time where you switch off all of your devices and resist the urge to check your messages. When you are fully present, you will feel the difference not only in your experience, but also the experience of your loved ones. It’s an opportunity to make deeper connections and memories, which is really invigorating.

Be the Role Model, Take Time Off and Let People Know What that Means

Audrey Van de Castle, Director of Digital Transformation - Operations Excellence, Stanley Black & Decker Inc.

Feeling good about taking time off work as a leader can be hard! There are definitely times that I have felt guilty and even FOMO (fear of missing out) because I was on PTO. One thing that I try to remind myself is that work is not the only reason for life – and certainly not the only cause for joy in life.

It is so critical to take some time to slow down, relax, take some mental breaks and find time for those other things that bring you joy. I find that often when I return from PTO or vacation, I am more excited to really dive back into my work. It is hard for me, even on PTO, to stop thinking about work. Sometimes I will allow myself a little work reflection time while on PTO – and that can also be a really great way to think through some problems in a different setting and context.

When I take time off – I make sure to set expectations with my teams and with my out of office message! Let folks know you will probably not be getting back to their message right away – and be sure to include who they can reach out to for urgent help in your absence.

Another best practice: If my team members are on vacation, and I see them responding to emails or joining calls, I will remind them they are on PTO and should really take advantage of that! The work will still be here when they return, but their vacation won’t be! I never want my team to feel pressured to work on vacation, so it is important to me that I model that for them and encourage them to behave that way.

Focus on Your Family

Bill Good, Vice President Supply Chain, GE Appliances

A clear mind and a rested body are very important to prevent burnout in a marathon manufacturing career. Stress can take its toll both mentally and physically. Vacation time is important to have a deeper recharge of your battery.

It is important to disconnect and focus on your family without distraction. Some people struggle to disconnect and tend to micro-manage their organizations 24/7. This is unproductive and basically communicates to the organization you don’t trust them to do their jobs without constant oversight from you. Also, keep in mind, your team is watching you. If they see you take time off, it shows the reinforcement of its importance, so they don’t feel guilt when they take time off. 

Trust Your Team

Carl Livesay, General Manager, Mercury Plastics Inc.

In today’s always-connected environment, you can run, but you cannot hide. The secret to success for taking time off is to surround yourself with talented people with good judgment and empower them to do the job.

The challenge many executives face is difficulty letting go of control. The explanations are many, but the root cause is a lack of trust in their team. Trust is the foundation a team is built upon, and it is essential to a leader’s success. I admit that it is difficult to trust a newly formed team so you can take time off or travel for business. I have found a good happy medium is to request regular updates as follows:

  1. The leadership on site is asked to call if first responders are called for any reason. This assures the senior executive is aware of incidents involving injury or structural property damage. 
  2. A brief daily summary from each member of the leadership team describing any anomalies or major decisions that were made. This is simply for awareness (theirs and yours) and not for action. Make sure your leadership team understands they are empowered to make whatever decision they believe they should make and to do so with confidence. If they have doubt, they should consult other members of the leadership team much as I consult with them.

Today, we are instantly available and that alone creates dependency on you. That dependency is counterproductive to your team’s growth, your success and the success of the company. An older friend once told me that you never really appreciate the sweetness of success without the risk of the bitterness of failure.

If you do not fully trust your team, leave for a day. The next time for two or three days etc. I am very fortunate that our team is self-healing such that the other team members fill in the gap for any person or responsibility that is missing for any reason. That’s what it means to be a team. Each of us can take time off and truly enjoy it.

It is essential to be able to really rest and recharge during your time off. Regardless of your preferred vacation, surround yourself with people you can trust. Then let go and trust them to do the jobs you know they are capable of doing. Speaking of vacation… it’s time to schedule mine. My team has my full trust and authority to act accordingly.

Use Technology to Your Advantage

Rebecca Morgan, President, Fulcrum ConsultingWorks Inc.

“Abraham Lincoln said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Yet so many of us think of working 40 hours in a week as slacking and taking vacation from work as even worse. Desperation is not pretty. Refuse to live a joyless life. As humans we must sharpen our axe (body and mind) consistently. If we don’t, we will not only add less and less value, we will care less and less.

Prioritization is a skill; so too communication; so too life-long learning and personal care. Set expectations of others, and of yourself, and behave consistently.

If you work for someone else’s business, believe me, they won’t shut down if you take care of yourself. Most of us think we are more important to our employers than we really are.

For me, the new electronic age is wonderful.

I don’t obsess over working from 8-5, Monday through Friday, avoiding business activities otherwise. I can answer business emails from anywhere in the world. I feel no obligation to respond in minutes, or even hours. I know urgent when I see it and respond accordingly.

Use technology to your advantage, not as a prison.

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