It was one of those picture perfect beach days. We were in Nags Head, N.C., where my family rents a house every year. After several hours of swimming, playing in the sand with my nieces, and reading, it was time to head back to the house and get changed for dinner.
For me, getting a break from my New York City commute (and planning my wedding, which was a few months away), was just what the doctor ordered. All I needed was a Corona, some Jimmy Buffett music, and a sign that read, “I’m on island time.”
But before I could join my parents, siblings, and (then) fiancé for some shrimp on the roof deck, I made the ill-fated decision to check my phone. As soon as I picked it up, I regretted the move. There were two voicemails, both from the publication where I worked at the time.
Realizing I had reached the point of no return, so I listened to them, expecting to hear that something catastrophic had happened. The scenarios ran through my head as I awaited the message:
“Hi Kate, we’re being sued for defamation because of your article. Pack your bags.”
Or perhaps, “Kate, there was some type of bizarre printing error, and your piece just reads ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.’”[I have a rather vivid imagination.]
In summary, she needed clarification the job title of a source I used, and part of the introduction was unclear. That was it. No potentially libelous statements, no controversial quotes. These were issues that could’ve been easily resolved without calling me (on my personal phone, no less) while on vacation.
“Can you take a look at it?” she asked me.
“Um, no,” I said. “I don’t have a computer with me. I’m on vacation.”
After a few more painful moments, I convinced her to take care of it, telling her that I trusted her judgement. And yet, even after hanging up, the questions lingered in my head. You see, I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to my writing, and so I started to wonder if she would have more questions, or if I could’ve given my work another edit.
It was like the clouds had rolled in, putting an end to the sunny day.
Luckily, my family was able to reel me back into island time. But it taught me a valuable lesson about making sure all loose ends are tied up before a vacation — or even the weekend, if possible.
In reality, though, no matter how well you prepare, there are always going to be issues that arise. And that’s why it’s so important to have a culture in place where people communicate openly and honestly, know each other’s personalities, and collaborate on projects so that more than one person can answer key questions.
But it’s more than that. It’s about building trust, and that has to happen long before vacation season. The more leaders are willing to involve others in the decision-making process and keep them in the loop, the easier it will be to trust them to make the right call in your absence.
In my case, I know I can contact Anthony during his vacation if I needed to, but I also know that family time is extremely important to him, and so I won’t place a call unless it’s urgent. He has made it clear — both through his words and actions — that he trusts Nancy and me to make decisions, which in turn has empowered us.
Of course, there are people who’d rather be kept in the loop while out of the office, and that’s their prerogative. But for most of us, being able to disconnect once in a while is a must. That way, we can return to work feeling refreshed, renewed, and hopefully with a little of that island glow.