How to Cope When Your Assistant Goes On Vacation

About a month ago, my assistant took vacation – the gall! Grace took flight to Cuba and left me to my work here in Canada for a week. While she was sipping on daiquiris, dancing the night away, and having the time of her life belting out karaoke tunes (and winning competitions for it!), I realized quickly just how much I’d come to rely on her.

Luckily, I also learned some coping skills I’d like to share with you. Here are 4 lessons that will help you preserve your sanity until your assistant is back in her chair.

1. Prioritize critical tasks

Before your assistant leaves, make the time to take inventory of their duties and decide what you’ll prioritize during the time they’re gone. What tasks and responsibilities are critical? What can you skip? How will you communicate with your clients to let them know about any delays or work that won’t be completed until your assistant returns?

At Any Old Task, Grace typically sends weekly updates to our clients about the state of their projects. Although I sent the first few on time, the second round waited until she was back and settled, which meant our clients received them a couple of days later than they usually would.

2. Go easy on yourself

During the time they’re away, remember not having that extra person in the office is going to have an impact on how much gets done (even if someone takes on their duties temporarily, that employee is now doing the work of two people). Do everyone a favour and cut yourself some slack, and do the best you can with the tools and people you have. Remember what’s in your control (the expectations and priorities you set for yourself), and what’s not (that your assistant rightfully needs time off, and the feedback and reactions you’ll receive from clients).

It might seem daunting to walk in on a Monday and have to dive into work without your trusty assistant sitting a few feet away, but remember: their leave is temporary! This too, shall pass.

3. Set realistic expectations for your assistant on their return

When your assistant returns from vacation, allow them a few days to ease back into their work routine. Have a heart – instead of sipping their favourite fruity drink on the beach as they bathe in the sun’s warmth, they’re back in the office under fluorescent lights, sinking into their ergonomic chair with a coffee in one hand, reaching for a ringing phone.

They’ll need a day or two to clear out their email and sift through the work on their desk, have a briefing with the teammate who stepped in while they were away (if any), catch up with you, and recover from jet lag.

Setting and maintaining realistic expectations for yourself and your staff will go a long way to fostering a healthy, less stressful work environment and boost morale around the office year-round.

I’ll give you an example from my own work history. Back when I worked for someone else, I’d come back from vacation and start to catch up on the work that was waiting for me. This meant that thousands of new orders from customers piled up as I strived to clear the backlog. At the end of an exhausting day, my boss asked me, “Why didn’t you process these orders?”

Well, obviously because (although it’s in a vast number of job descriptions these days) mere humans aren’t built to truly multi-task! We can’t complete more than one task at a time. It just isn’t possible.

Experiences like this one are part of why I decided to start my own company, work for myself, and help entrepreneurs take back their time – because organized work environments and productive teams make for healthy workplaces.

4. Check in: are your employees happy?

We often hear that happy employees are loyal employees. A 2015 Gallup study in the United States found that engagement and well-being influence employee performance. A few stats to keep in mind:

  • 42% more likely to evaluate their overall lives highly
  • 27% more likely to report “excellent” performance in their own job at work
  • 27% more likely to report “excellent” performance by their organization
  • 59% less likely to look for a job with a different organization in the next 12 months
  • 18% less likely to change employers in a 12-month period

Essentially, be the boss you wish you had. Never forget: your employees are people, too. They have lives of their own and are (hopefully) not working for you exclusively for a paycheque, but because they genuinely enjoy their job and want to contribute to your company’s success. Their loyalty is valuable, because turnover, hiring and training new employees is costly.

With this in mind, take time once or twice a year to have an honest, constructive conversation with your team about how happy they are overall with their work and the interpersonal dynamics of your office. You’ll probably learn from their perspectives, and your employees will feel like you care about their well-being.

Statistics show that the most powerful incentives don’t revolve around monetary performance bonuses or awards – good news for cash-strapped businesses. You can show your appreciation by allowing exemplary employees to take extra vacation time, work remotely (on a schedule that’s mutually agreed on), or allowing them to work flexible hours. Also, let them work in their areas of genius as much as you can. What types of projects are they both good at and passionate about? What are their strengths and weaknesses?

For example, Grace loves designing lead magnets (marketing speak for the amazing free offers we create to attract email subscribers), but if she couldn’t design to save her life, I’d probably have her take lessons so she could do it, or ask her what else she’d like to do.

Pro tip: You can’t decide what your employees’ areas of genius are, but you can help identify them.

Read 33 Thoughtful Employee Recognition & Appreciation Ideas for 2018 – SnackNation

At first, you may dread the day your assistant requests vacation time. Who doesn’t? It’s a change in routine, expectations will change temporarily and labour will have to be distributed. But with the right approach, you can transform it into an opportunity to take stock of that person’s value to your organization and even open the dialogue on how to improve office dynamics. Make 2018 your year to start the conversation.

Meet your host

Sandra Booker, Founder of Changemaker Inc. (home to Sidekick COO and The VA Studio) and creator of Scale Society and The Advisory Board, is a mentor, Fractional COO  and growth strategist. She specializes in helping overworked, overwhelmed, multi-hatted entrepreneurs become the CEOs of sustainably scalable, and powerfully profitable businesses. 

After helping local businesses thrive, and receiving accolades in her community (like the 40 Under 40 award) Sandra turned her attention to the world of online service providers, and her clients include familiar names like Chanti Zak, Tarzan Kay, and Laura Belgray.

In her (efficiently used) spare time, she teaches others how to build and grow their own 6-figure virtual assistant practices and is on a mission to create a million jobs by helping her clients and students scale their businesses.

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