employee communication during vacation

Should Your Employees Have to Check in With the Office During Summer Vacation?

Your business doesn’t stop when an employee goes on vacation. There are still products and services that need to be sold, questions that need to be answered and day-to-day tasks that need to be handled. But when employees are on vacation, should business stop for them?

That’s the question we posed to Debra Corey, corporate HR director of Reward Gateway and co-author of “Build it: The Rebel Playbook for World-Class Employee Engagement.” Corey shared her operating instructions for communicating with employees while they’re on vacation.

“Should” Is the Operative Word

Research reveals that employees are already thinking about work when they’re not there. According to a recent study by Accountemps, 44 percent of employees lose sleep over work-related issues ranging from being overwhelmed by their workload to having disagreements with coworkers.

The fact that almost half of workers can’t sleep because of work anxiety speaks to the need to allow them time to rest and unwind. “The word that makes it difficult is ‘should’ — it should not be an expectation, it should be a personal choice,” says Corey. She believes that employees should be treated like adults and left to decide what they think is best. “You interview someone, you hire them because you think they’re the best person, but after hiring them, now it’s like you don’t trust them to make the right decisions,” she says.

Advantages of Employees Checking In

Clearly, there are advantages for the company if workers check in while on vacation, because business continues as it normally would. However, Corey says checking in can also be beneficial to some employees. “Some people get too stressed if they don’t check their email and would rather spend five minutes every morning checking in to be sure that everything is in good shape.” For these employees, it would be difficult to relax unless they checked in. “I admit that I like to check in because I see it as a way to control things and make sure that, when I come back, everything isn’t out of control,” she says.

Disadvantages of Employees Checking In

If employees are checking in, they’re never flipping the switch to turn off “work mode.” Corey says that some people want to completely separate from work when they’re on vacation. And while some employees feel better after checking in for five minutes, the opposite can also be true. “You can see that one email that upsets you the rest of the day, or even the rest of the week,” Corey says. “You’re almost holding your breath as you log in, because you don’t know what’s going to be in your timeline and how it will affect you.” That’s why she believes that employees should be able to decide what’s best for them.

“If you’re a grown-up, you don’t tell another grown-up, ‘You’re going to eat at this time or shower at this time,’ because you assume they’re going to handle the important tasks.” Corey says this strategy doesn’t just apply to vacations, either — it applies to every time an employee is off.

Setting Expectations

Some companies like to create policies regarding contacting employees outside of standard business hours. “I’m not a big believer in rules, because they put a divide between employees and management,” Corey says. However, depending on the company’s needs, she believes it might be a good idea to speak with the management team regarding expectations. “Talk to managers about how to best support their employees. It’s less about policy and more about giving managers and employees support.”

And the expectations have to match the message. “You can say it’s OK not to check email, but then you’re expecting something to be completed when they’re on vacation.” In this case, you’re sending a mixed message. Make sure your communication is consistent.