Stress-free vacations are possible!

Stress-free vacations are possible!

Emily Huling, CIC, CMC

You finally did it. You’ve scheduled a week away from work and personal obligations. No doctor’s appointments, no painful small talk with Great Uncle Harry, no Mickey Mouse parade down Main Street in Magic Kingdom. You and the love of your life are going on a Caribbean cruise. Passport – check. Cruise attire – check. Shore excursions booked – check. You even had enough frequent flyer miles to upgrade to first class for the flight to San Juan. The vacation you’ve saved for, planned for and dreamed about for years is just few weeks away. You have every reason to be on cloud nine. But you’re not. You’re stressed out!

Instead of envisioning white sand beaches and drinks with little umbrellas, you’re seeing images of what will be waiting when you return. You picture hundreds of e-mail messages, phone calls to return, and coworkers queued up at your office door within minutes of your arrival. How awful! Stress from taking extended time away from work is not uncommon. Here’s the good news. Good planning and preparation will zap vacation anxiety.

Start planning six weeks in advance. If there is ever a time to have a hard copy calendar, this is it. It helps to visualize and concretely note the timing of your work prior to and after your vacation. Record your vacation days and due dates of critical items. Even if you haven’t decided when you’re going to do the work that falls during your vacation, note the due dates. This is the point of reference to plan your pre-vacation time.

Create a backup partnership. Many offices have this in place year round. CSR colleagues are partnered for support when the other is out of the office. This coworker is briefed on projects, outstanding client and company issues, checks voice mail, e-mail, and in boxes once or twice a day. If you’re concerned about security and privacy, you or your IT staff can set temporary passwords for your time away.

Reset your diary system to change dates that fall during vacation. Some suspense items will automatically be set to pop up during your vacation time. Remember to change the suspense date of new items being posted during your preparation period. Take time to check what is already posted to those dates and reset them. On dates that can’t be changed, reassign items to your backup or remind her that suspensed work will need to be handled.

Eliminate any backlog. Let’s hope you don’t have a backlog. But if you do, know that this is the hairy mammoth that always roars when an employee is on vacation. It’s one thing to leave colleagues with current work to handle. It’s unfair and unprofessional to leave unfamiliar perils for others to fight off. Schedule time to get caught up before vacation.

Plan and work ahead. Posting your critical work on the hard copy calendar will remind you what you have to do and prompt you to work ahead. The salami method of time management will enable you to work on several large projects simultaneously and get things done. The idea is to take a slice at a time from different projects to stay on top of multiple accounts and various tasks. Create a timeline for each critical account documenting the things to be done and the target date. For example, you may have to move up the renewal meeting discussion from its normal time to accommodate your vacation. Work with your agency team, carrier, and client to work with a timeframe so your responsibilities are handled.

Advise your key clients and underwriters. We all work with others who rely on us to complete what we do so their jobs can be done. Send a courtesy e-mail two weeks before leaving to those you work with and let them know you’ll be on vacation. Do they have anything they need before you go? Let them know who your backup colleague is and how to reach her.

Practice the no-surprise policy. What could happen that no one else knows about and could materialize when you’re gone? Think hard about that question. Has a client had a recurring payment problem that may resurface? Have you been catching computer-generated rating errors that your coworker may miss when completing your work? Inform the appropriate parties of issues that may arise to avoid future problems.

Reassign management or leadership roles to another. If you lead a team, are the go-to person for a specialty line of business, or are the assigned company resource person people count on be certain to designate a backup person for those special roles. Putting someone in charge demonstrates confidence in your coworker, eliminates confusion during your absence, and will help you get up to speed when you’re back in the office.

Change your voice mail and set your e-mail automatic responder. Let people know who to contact in your absence and when you’ll be returning. Remember to leave both phone number and e-mail address of your backup person.

Make a commitment with yourself not to check in. The reason you’re doing all of this is to get away. Do not tell people you’ll check in or to call if they need you. Do not check e-mail. You’ll undermine your colleague’s responsibility as your backup and short change yourself of earned vacation time.

Recognize and reward coworkers who have pitched in. Show your gratitude with a heartfelt thank you and genuine appreciation for your coworkers’ efforts and support. If you feel you want to do something more, that’s fine. Just know that you’re all in this together and the best gift you can give your colleagues is to support them when they have a vacation to enjoy.

Emily Huling, CIC, CMC helps the insurance industry create top-performing sales and customer service organizations. She is the author of Selling from the Inside and Kick Your “But.” For information on her programs and products call 888-309-8802 or visit

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