As the UAE continues to bake in the summer heat, many of us are still counting down the time until we get to enjoy our own precious days of annual leave. As the many currently empty desks and desolate company canteens can attest, the summer holiday season is well under way, and those of us who are yet to take time off are surely thinking about doing so. Maybe you are planning a short trip to stay with family, a long-anticipated visit to a far-flung part of the world, or you just crave some time away from the comparative confines of the office.
Holidays, of course, are near-universally thought of as an evident “good thing”. Time to recharge and de-stress, to think about things other than work, to connect with loved ones, and to simply enjoy yourself. They might feel close to essential as a means to effectively balance work and life, while research has shown that avoiding taking them can have a negative effect on workplace productivity and creativity.
Although their impact can be positive, many will also recognise that the work routine which precedes a block of holiday can be anything but. Even a long weekend can throw off schedules and necessitate astute diary juggling, while taking a week or more can involve many extra hours of preparatory work, strategic planning and complicated handover arrangements. Work still needs to be done, and it can largely fall to the person intending to be absent to make sure that it is.
That’s not to mention the fear of being shown to be surplus to necessity when you are away. It’s not uncommon for people to spurn booking leave to avoid the possibility that anyone see them as anything less than essential – the slightly twisted logic is that if you’re always present, then you must always be needed.
Leaders, when they take holiday, can particularly feel these pressures. With ultimate responsibility for an organisation, it can look like there is no alternative who can effectively cope with possible challenges. There can be a sense that an absence will be particularly hard-felt – maybe even damaging and disruptive to the wider business – which is a rational but by no means necessarily accurate assessment of how things will run. Delegation, of course, is a skill all leaders must learn, but the challenge, as the one in charge, can appear all the greater when even your physical presence – let alone your guiding influence – will be lacking in the office.
In truth, the business is unlikely to collapse in the days you are away. The building will probably not fall down, deals are unlikely to collapse, and staff will not leave en masse. Certainly things may run differently in the care of somebody else, but this doesn’t mean they won’t run at all. In reality, if you have effectively led and managed your team in the days, months and years before, then you will have equipped people with the skills and experience they need to operate without unwavering attention.
That is not to say that you should simply ignore all fears and plough merrily forwards with grand travel plans. An absence of any length can hold the potential – although hopefully very small – for things to go wrong. A crisis might arise, a task might be misunderstood. Coping, however, with such events is as much in the planning as anything else – mitigating risks in advance; thinking about crisis management and reporting lines; setting up contingencies. It should also be a motivation to cross current pressing tasks off your own to-do list, and a nice excuse to reinvestigate workflows and the priorities you have in place.
This can also help when you actually make it out of the office, with the effort to disconnect from your pinging, blinking smartphone and the nagging sense that “just one quick check” couldn’t possibly hurt. Everyone likes to feel needed and necessary, naturally enough, but a confident, capable leader should also be able to let go and trust their team. After all, your leadership can still be effective even while you doze on a beach.
Ahmad Badr is the chief executive of Abu Dhabi University Knowledge Group.
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