'Tis the season to take a break

PHOTO: The Business Times

In every company, there will always be those few who seem to keep accumulating their leave as if it's gold.

That would make some sense if the leave can be rolled over to the next year or if you actually can cash out the unused days.

But it is completely mind-boggling to me that some people have no qualms about letting their annual leave go to waste. It's your statutory right, for crying out loud.

I want to shed a tear at the squander of it all.

But times are tough, you may argue, it's all hands on deck.

Or you think that you're lucky to even have a job at all, so a long vacation is out of the question.

Without a doubt, there will be peak seasons where the company or department may have blackout periods when it comes to annual leave.

And in today's climate where retrenchment is at an all-time high, the anxieties about keeping a job are very real.

I don't want to play down the concerns of the ordinary worker. But if your solution to keep your job is to slog 24/7 to make your presence felt, something is not quite right.

Even if your work quality doesn't suffer, it's not rocket science that such behaviour is unsustainable and will eventually lead to burnout.

In my experience, people who don't end up utilising their leave tend to fall into two main camps.

The first are the "Chicken Little" workaholics - those who fear that the sky will fall down if they leave, and their answer for everything is that they are too busy.

The second are the ones who don't plan their leave at all, and are content to just continue chugging along in their work.

When we neglect ourselves by failing to schedule a time-out to refresh and recharge, we are benefiting no one, and certainly not our employer.

Drawing inspiration from my brand-new terrarium sitting at my desk, even the most fuss-free, self-sustaining plant needs some fresh air every now and then to survive.

But there is another group of people that needs addressing- the unfortunate lot who are unable or hesitant to take leave due to tyrannical management or poor work culture.

These are the workplaces where requesting for leave is like squeezing water out of stone.

And more often than not, employees end up having to work on vacation.

I know of someone who quit her job after several years in a toxic culture where not only was she expected to be contactable when on vacation, she had to take her work laptop with her to check e-mails daily.

She confided that she never had a proper vacation throughout her entire stint at her former workplace - which was a respectable statutory board to boot.

I get that good jobs are scarce these days, and one cannot afford to be too picky.

But neither is it in the worker or the company's long-term interest to "suck thumb", to put it colloquially.

These employers are usually the paranoid sort, who worry that this or that project won't be accomplished if a key person is away.

This is especially so in small teams. People feel bad to take leave as they feel "responsible" for their project.

I would suggest that your team come together at the start to discuss when each person is planning to take leave.

If project timelines are unclear, come together to push management for more clarity.

Staffing company Adecco says that there should be a practice where teams work together to cover each other's duties when one person is away.

This requires planning, training and communication ahead of the planned vacation.

Always make sure that others are in the loop and are prepared to take on whatever you are handling as well.

If you are a one-man show, tell your boss that you need someone else who is able to cover your work in case of any emergencies.

This will help all parties concerned: employees know when they need to cover each other, and employers get more peace of mind when they know that the work will be done.

As for working on vacation, the behaviour of the leadership team sets the tone for the staff.

Patrick Fiat, general manager of Royal Plaza on Scotts, says that leadership team members who are going on vacation will inform the emergency response team, so that they will not be recalled even during an activation.

He adds that staff are not expected to be contactable while on vacation.

I can probably attest to this: I had contacted the communications director earlier about this story, but received a notification that the person was on leave.

My request was promptly attended to by that person's team mate, with nary a word from the said director, whom I hope is taking a nice, long vacation somewhere.

But in the instance where your boss tells you to not worry about a thing when you go, would you really believe her if she is constantly sending work e-mails from the Bahamas?

For employees who want peace of mind when they take leave, the best way is to make sure that they have done a proper handover to the team, and don't forget to brief their boss before they go.

I would also suggest that you tell them you will be off the grid for a bit, so it's best for them not to contact you unless it's a life or death emergency (which rarely is).

But for many of us, checking and replying work e-mails when overseas has become quite a habit that we don't even realise.

By all means reply, but this is usually taken as a sign of encouragement to escalate their requests further. And before you know it, you might as well be working remotely.

For some who fear that utilising your full leave entitlement means that you are seen as being a less committed worker, a company with a great culture that truly wants to groom and retain talent won't view it that way.

Gina Kuek, senior HR manager of software firm Tableau, shared that her colleague Suhendra, a senior product consultant, is moving up to become a team leader soon even after utilising his very generous leave entitlements this year.

His first child was born in March this year, and he had four weeks of paid paternity leave provided by his company, on top of his annual leave.

Despite being away for quite a bit this year to tend to his family needs, he found time to mentor his team members and meet his key performance indicators (KPIs) to support the various teams across the company.

In his next role, Ms Kuek said, he would soon be leading a team of 10.

Yes, the above scenario sounds too good to be true, but taking your rightful leave entitlement doesn't have to remain some fantasy.

I'm not even saying that a break entails heading abroad.

Sometimes, all we need is just quality time with loved ones right here.

Let me end off with a piece of wisdom from a yoga class that I attended.

"Bend, so you don't break," the instructor intoned, as she proceeded to touch the floor - with her head.

Allow me to give my variation: Have a break, so that you don't.

I think we all need a reminder every now and then that we are not indispensable, and work is just part of life.

A break is not a luxury but a necessity that will keep us going.


This article was first published on December 18, 2016.
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