Tanveer Naseer

Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Writer

How Leaders Can Take Advantage of the Summer Downtime

Boss in empty office

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece about the importance of leaders taking time off work and going on vacation, a piece which I’m happy to share has been picked up by the American Management Association (AMA) and is now featured on their website. Since publishing that piece, I’ve received a number of emails from my readers and had conversations with various friends and acquaintances where they shared how vacation time is viewed by their bosses and their organizations.

While these discussions have inspired some future posts I’ll be writing for my blog, they also got me thinking about the other side of this vacation time equation. Namely, how leaders and their organizations can benefit from the downtime that inevitably arises when employees are away on vacation.

When members of your team go away on vacation, it’s only natural to feel some concern over how their time away from work might slow down certain efforts or limit the number of people available to address an unexpected problem or failure. Given today’s current work environment where organizations have reduced their staff size while keeping work output the same or higher than before, any concerns over a growing lag time naturally become even more pronounced.

Of course, there are many reasons and benefits to taking an extended break from work, benefits that certainly outweigh any loss of productivity or efficacy that inevitably happens when a member of your team is away on vacation. So how can leaders make the best of the summer downtime instead of relegating themselves to simply grinning and bearing it?

As it turns out, the summer downtime provides an excellent opportunity for leaders to review their team’s efforts, in order to assess how much progress has been made to date and what issues continue to deter their team from pushing ahead. While leaders should be making time for such reflection and review as part of their daily and weekly routine, it’s not uncommon for many leaders to sacrifice this time to address urgent calls for their attention.

As such, the absence of team members during the summer time can actually provide leaders with a welcome break to do a more in-depth review of where they are in reaching their shared goals and consequently, developing a better understanding of where to focus their team’s efforts when they return to full force at the end of summer.

Of course, in assessing the efforts made so far by your team, it’s important that you move beyond your daily work perspective by fostering a sense of inquisitive thinking about your business. This way, you can make a proper evaluation of your organization’s progress that takes into account not only the accomplishments and issues you’re aware of, but also those aspects about your operations which you ordinarily don’t have the time to review and reflect upon.

With this in mind, here are some questions to help you determine how successful your team’s efforts have been in helping your organization move closer to reaching your shared goals:

How did we respond to unexpected opportunities over the last few months?
While we can’t plan for every problem that might happen, we also can’t anticipate every opportunity which might come up for our team or organization. Of course, not all opportunities are the same and that’s why it’s important to review how your team responds to them and what efforts are made to evaluate whether these opportunities align with your shared goals or whether they are steering your team off-course towards another direction.

What tasks/assignments are proving to be more difficult than we planned?
One of the goals a leader should have is to see their employees succeed in their efforts. Spending some time evaluating where your employees are running into problems can help you figure out if changes might need to be made to facilitate the process, or if additional resources will be needed to help your team get past these obstacles.

What changes should we make in the upcoming months to ensure we stay on target?
Just as an airline pilot has to make course adjustments to compensate for wind and other weather elements, so too should organizational leaders take into account how conditions have evolved and changed as their team’s efforts progressed. Becoming aware of these changes can help you anticipate issues you might need to prepare your team to address in the upcoming months.

Did we learn from our failures or is there a risk of repeating them?
No matter how well-thought out your plans are, mistakes are inevitable and par for the course. Of course, the real key to dealing with failures is not avoiding them; rather, it’s how you choose to respond to it. More specifically, are you creating an environment where your employees view them as learning opportunities or do they view them more as situations where the blaming game is played?

How your team – and you as their leader – deal with failures will have a big impact on whether improvements are made to avoid the problem rearing its ugly head again.

Is the team still motivated about our shared goals?
Obviously, when you start a new project, there’s a lot of excitement and passion in the room because people feel engaged by taking on a new challenge. It doesn’t take long, though for that enthusiasm to decline as routines begin to take hold and especially if your team is encountering more obstacles than small wins.

The downtime that comes with the summer vacation period provides a welcome opportunity for leaders to assess their team’s current momentum and what can be done to keep it going or to help it get back up to speed.

While summer provides us with the much-needed time to unplug and recharge ourselves, the downtime that comes with the summer months can also prove to be beneficial for leaders as an opportunity to evaluate their team’s efforts toward reaching the objectives that were mapped out at the beginning of the year.

Making time for such reflection and review will not only help you understand what measures worked and what didn’t, it will also help you to revise and adjust the tasks you assign to your team, thanks to having a clearer understanding of what issues your team might have to deal with over the remaining months of the year.

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14 Comments
  1. On August 26th, 2011 at 9:40 AM Ian said:

    Vacations are necessary, and it's best to leave your phone/ipad/whatever at home when you go away, otherwise you're not really on vacation. In the UK we call them 'hoidays' but the principle is the same. 🙂

    It's easy for the employer to see the downside of staff going on holiday but they need to remember that it's useful to have people who can stand in for those on holiday. Every business needs to be flexible with their staff – after all, it's better if more than one person can do each job surely? A little time invested in training for new skills will pay dividends.

  2. On August 26th, 2011 at 11:32 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    That's an excellent point, Ian, though I suspect it's also a double-edged sword for employees who fear that if someone else can do their job while there away, their boss might question why they need two people to do both jobs. Certainly, that's the reality we see in many organizations today, where thanks to downsizing and layoffs, the employees who remain are expected to not only keep up with their orginal responsibilities, but shoulder those of their former co-workers.

    For it to really be effective, employees need to know that the goal is to create a team where people can step in for the short-term to replace co-workers who are on vacation, attending a conference or training session, in order to create a team spirit where each person has the other's back. Otherwise, people will be naturally wary to take such initiatives out of fear that they might end up being saddled with more work to trim the bottom line.

    Thanks again, Ian, for adding this important point to the discussion.

  3. On August 26th, 2011 at 11:27 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Sanjay; I appreciate the kind words.

    It is unfortunate that many bosses still view employee vacation time as a liability to an organization because all they see are empty cubicles. Recognizing how that means there are less people demanding your attention, their departure can very well be a welcome break to tackle some of the big picture issues that most leaders struggle to find time to address as their attention spans get spread thinner each day.

  4. On August 27th, 2011 at 8:07 AM Ana | Marketing said:

    Tanveer, you share some great insights here.

    I just want to touch on what you mention here, bearing in mind that I am a small entrepreneur, not a big corporate CEO. LOL

    In my own experience, I see that when I push myself when I am tired / disfocused, I achieve less than I would by taking off for a few hours and then tackling the task with renewed enthusiasm.

    The same must apply in a corporate company and leaders should see that, too.

  5. On August 27th, 2011 at 11:57 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Hi Ana,

    Your experience with how taking a break to recharge and renew your focus/productivity, as opposed to just barrelling through, has been reinforced in several studies which have shown that people are in fact more effective when they regular breaks from work. In fact, I read one recent study which showed that taking several small vacation breaks throughout the year, instead of one big vacation break for the year, provides a longer positive impact. In other words, taking regular breaks away from work leads to improved productivity and work output.

    Ultimately, whether we're talking about a corporate environment, a small business setting, or in your case Ana a small entrepreneur venture, the fact is that all of them are run by people, people who will require regular breaks from work to remain effective in their roles.

    Thanks again Ana for sharing your personal experience with this.

  6. On August 27th, 2011 at 8:52 AM Michael Said said:

    The reality is that leave allows employees to return to work refreshed and ready to give it their best shot. Employers should understand this and welcome vacation time for their employees.

  7. On August 27th, 2011 at 12:03 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Agreed, Michael. Unfortunately, many organizations and their leaders are suffering from an extreme myopia, focusing more on the fact that allowing employees to take their time off work leaves gaps in their workforce and consequently, can lead to a reduced work output. What they're failing to realize is that attempting to keep the team's productivity at the same level for the short term will have long term consequences in the form of a gradual decline in efficiency. And that outcome doesn't serve anyone well.

  8. On August 29th, 2011 at 3:13 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Tyler. Glad to hear this piece inspired some ideas in you on how to approach the summer downtime.

  9. On September 1st, 2011 at 12:57 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Off-hand Tyler, I can't say which sites use ID as their commenting system. Certainly, there are many different options being used, from ID to Disqus and even LiveFyre seems to be growing in popularity. In the end, I guess it comes down to which one suits the needs of your site best.

  10. On August 29th, 2011 at 11:34 PM Freddy finally fast said:

    I remember reading your piece about vacation time for bosses when you initially published it here! This is a topic that I think about from time to time.

    If I had my way, we'd adopt a much more European attitude toward vacation — they allow for so much vacation time, if most Americans looked at the numbers they'd be astounded. I think vacation time is important for everyone and in Europe, even the corporate culture allows for incredible amounts of time off, for every single laborer (not just the higher-ups).

  11. On September 1st, 2011 at 12:56 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Hi Freddy,

    There are a number of business practices that organizations in the US and elsewhere need to play catch-up on, including recognizing the value and necessity of encouraging time off from work to remain productive, innovative and effective in an ever-increasing competitive market. There are ample studies out there showing how many workplaces are heading toward a severe burn-out which will make any impressions of short-term gains from today's approach to work seem trivial.

    Here's hoping organizational leaders catch on and change course before the damage becomes too severe to repair.

  12. On August 30th, 2011 at 7:15 AM Jim Matorin said:

    Solid post – check list. What resonated most for me was your analogy to a leader being a good pilot. Tanveer, you know I like analogies. We all have to take timeout to figure out where we need to make adjustments. Consequently I suggest that these timeouts should be on a regular basis, not just over the slow period known as summer. More importantly a good leader needs to solicit some input about what course should be made. Clearly communicating all course changes helps too!

  13. On September 1st, 2011 at 1:01 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Jim and I agree with you that regular breaks are important to take throughout the year and even during the workday. Staying at your desk for the whole workday is not only bad for your health, but it's also a sure way to lose touch with the challenges those around you have to deal with and how you can be of help.

    Thanks again for chiming in, Jim. Always appreciate your contributions to the discussions being had on my site.

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