The One Thing You Need To Do To Be A Better Boss

No matter the industry, as a boss, you wear many hats and serve several roles: leader, advisor, collaborator, communicator, role model, just to name a few. But far too often, one of those roles—communicator—doesn’t receive the attention it deserves. And it’s a role that matters more than you might think, especially when it comes to time off.

As we’ve built Project: Time Off over the past three years, I always suspected the workplace was where we needed to focus our efforts to really make a change. The data recently proved this out. The number one influencer when it comes to taking time off? Managers, even slightly edging out families (24% to 23%).

The influence is so powerful that four out of every five employees told us that if they felt supported and encouraged by their boss, they would be likely to use their time off. The problem being, employees aren’t feeling that support, which is how we got in ourselves in a 662 million vacation day hole.

Getting back to communication. As managers, we’re failing when 66 percent of employees report hear nothing, mixed messages, or discouraging messages about taking time off. Employees have filled this silence with a poisonous work martyrdom philosophy: the belief that the only way to show their complete dedication and stave off fears of being replaceable is to be “on” all the time. Most concerning, Americans think it's actually a good thing to be seen by their boss as a work martyr. Only it isn't. 

This discouraging notion is especially prominent among the most impressionable staffers: Millennial workers. Two in five young workers—who are starting to shape the managerial roster of many companies—admit that they want their boss to see them as a work martyr.

We can and need to break our workforce of this notion. The figures couldn’t be clearer—as the more experienced generation and in a position of great influence, the onus is on us to make sure we put forward a good example and serve as mentors for the generation that will come after us. 

We all see the headlines about Millennial workers and entitlement. But chances are, if you’re like me, your staff consists of hard-charging, energetic young people who often are willing to be constantly connected and sacrifice personal time to ensure they’re doing a good job.

Try these tactics on for size and show your staff how to vacation like it’s 1999. Bonus: it doesn’t have to cost you a thing.

  1. Take your vacation time. By using your own time off, your team can see that it’s okay to be away from the office. It’s implicit permission. You also show your team you trust them and provide the opportunity for them to stretch. As basic as this may sound, the first step to taking your time off is planning it. Pull a calendar out, plot out your days, and put them to good use.
  2. Think before you email. Being plugged in on vacation is a personal choice. You can choose not to! Staying plugged in can help you enjoy the time away because you have a sense that things are going okay or it can make you feel like you didn’t get away at all. As the boss, whatever you do sets the precedent. Before you go, decide under what circumstances you will be available (if at all), how you can be reached, and communicate it to your team as the choice you made.
  3. Boast a little. I don’t mean in an ostentatious way. Simply talking about the fact you are going on vacation or how you enjoyed your vacation matters. It shouldn’t just be with your direct reports. As senior leaders, it’s important that everyone from the interns to the c-suite know that you value vacation and it starts by sharing your own experience.
  4. Have the talk. Vacation has implications on your business’ bottom line and your employees’ wallets. For the business, it means greater productivity, happier employees, and freeing up money tied up in vacation liability. For employees, it may be surprising to find out that workers who used more vacation time were more likely to have received a raise or bonus in the last three years than those who used less. So in addition to the less formal conversations, make a point to talk to direct reports during your review process about their vacation usage and how that trickles down. While you may be a great advocate for vacation, a middle-manager may be pushing the work martyr philosophy without your knowledge. All it takes is a conversation.

It’s on you to make sure active communication is part of your leadership plan. Trust me, your employees—and your bottom line—will thank you for it.

Note: The data and statistics referenced in this post have been updated since we originally published this post. Learn more about the State of American Vacation 2017.

August 29, 2016