Just before July 4 this year, Jay Henderson, managing partner for the Chicago office of PricewaterhouseCoopers, the worldwide accounting firm, did something he had never done before. He dedicated the entire issue of Chicago Wrap, the bimonthly newsletter he writes and sends to the firm's 1,400 Chicago employees, to a single subject: the importance of taking a vacation and really getting away from work.
"The issues around vacation are complex, because we're in a professional-services business with client needs that are often difficult to predict," explains Henderson, himself a vacation devotee. (His most recent trip was a long weekend in Newport, R.I., with his wife, Cindy.) "However, I do believe that there are commitments that we need to make to each other within the firm to achieve our goals of every individual being able to achieve their own personal vacation time and experience objectives.
"I thought it was important to focus everyone on the importance of effective vacation experiences," he elaborates. "Vacations can improve the quality of lives and the quality of the professional services we offer if you come back focused and recharged. When I plan my vacations effectively, I'm able to return to work with a strong focus and energy level."
STRAIGHTFORWARD MESSAGE. Easier said than done when vacations can become marathon e-mail, BlackBerry, cell-phone sessions in a postcard setting. So Henderson wrote "How to Take a Vacation," in Chicago Wrap, offering tips based on what he has seen and heard about in other offices during his 28-year career at PwC.
Did the PwC Chicago office embrace vacation best practices as ardently as audit and tax best practices? "I received a strong positive response from a number of our people," Henderson says. "They commented that it was helpful for them to understand what the expectations were for balancing vacation with their professional responsibilities. The more we can simplify the messages and deliver them in a consistent manner, the better off our entire team is on executing the plan."
In fact, one Chicago business unit launched a vacation-related contest. Employees had a competition for the best vacation photos and stories, and awarded prizes in several categories.
THE ROOTS OF VACATION. Henderson's vacation crusade is part of a broader goal to enhance the quality of work/life. "We're encouraging people to expand their thoughts around vacation and not just limit it to just the summer and holiday periods," he says. "Flexibility and quality time away are important factors to focus on in the ever-demanding environment of today."
"We're not innovating vacation," he concludes. "We're trying to simplify it, to get back to its roots. Vacation is about fun, recharging batteries, creating and enhancing relationships, and trying new experiences. Our people work hard and do a great job in serving our clients in a quality manner. We want them to take the same approach and focus on their vacation experiences, because when this happens, everyone benefits."
For "How to Take a Vacation," Henderson organized his thoughts into three parts, which are excerpted below:
PART 1. PARTNERS AND SUPERVISORS -- OUR COMMITMENT
As partners or supervisors, we will be role models, taking uninterrupted vacations and supporting others to do the same. When you plan time off, we will ask what support and advance preparation we can provide to ensure your vacation is unencumbered.
We will discuss the importance of quality time off one-on-one, in staff meetings and in firm communications.
We will inform our clients of scheduled vacations and manage their expectations around the importance of vacations and time off for our staff. We will not call individuals on vacation, except in a true emergency.
We will do everything possible to not ask that vacations be canceled or altered.
We will refrain from discussions that might suggest that work undertaken while on vacation is expected, acceptable, or a best practice.
We will not expect participation in conference calls, returning voicemails or e-mails during vacation.
PART 2. ALL OF US -- YOUR COMMITMENT
When you plan time off, you will talk to your supervisor or partner about getting the support you need to ensure your time off is unencumbered.
You will plan for your time off.
Unless in an emergency situation, you will not engage in work-related activities.
You will make the most of your time off. Relax and enjoy it!
PART 3. BEST VACATION PRACTICES
1. Preparation is everything!
Give appropriate consideration to your client commitments or other responsibilities.
Talk to your partner, manager, or supervisor about your plans and elicit their help. There is a shared responsibility to communicate in advance to advise others about your plans and to expect help from others to ensure that your plans are successfully achieved.
Engage colleagues who can take charge of your job and manage internal or external client responsibilities while you are away
2. Leave without a care.
Thoughtfully brief the person/people overseeing your work, including your clients, coach, relationship partner, supervisor, EA, HR, and back-up.
Ensure client files or projects folders are organized and easily accessible.
Be sure to leave messages on your phone and e-mail to let people know that you are out of the office, when you will return, and whom they can contact should they need immediate assistance.
Complete your Lotus Notes "Out of Office" notification message and add to your LN calendar.
Submit your Time & Expense report.
Leave an emergency contact number with your HR Manager.
Try not to schedule meetings or travel for the day you return.
Plan what needs to be done when you return.
3. Away from work.
Try not to call the office to discuss business matters or check voicemail or e-mail. You are either on vacation or you're at work; you shouldn't try to be in two places at one time.
Trust your colleagues to follow through on your behalf.
Lose the guilt over taking time off. Have as much respect for your personal life as you do for your professional life.
Enjoy your family, friends, or solitude.
4. Now that you're back.
Give yourself re-entry time to get caught up and acclimated. Work with HR or your supervisor to schedule this time.
Tell everyone what a great time you had.
Start planning your next vacation -- see step #1. By Ann Therese Palmer in Chicago
EDITED BY Patricia O'Connell