Going on Leave

Devashish Chakravarty        Print Edition: June 2012

{mosimage}It is one of the most routine and frequent conversations in an office. And yet, it is also the most delayed and poorly executed. Everyone who has ever worked for someone has had to do this, request for time off from work.

With changing corporate structures, the process of applying for leave has also changed. What was earlier a simple casual leave for tooth extraction is now a 'semi working day'. It would be best to get your time off from work without causing any disruptions.

Leave comes in many official forms - casual, privileged, medical, maternity, sabbatical and so on. However, the practical classification is-immediate versus planned and short versus long.

Unplanned immediate time off, often emergencies, are the easiest. Follow standard office protocol, be it calling the boss, mailing the team, texting your secretary or simply logging in and recording it in the system. There is an established way of communicating it. When in doubt, call your reporting manager and then a team member so that they can work around your absence. Follow it up with a one-line mail to make it official.

A longer planned leave is trickier, be it for your brother's wedding or hitchhiking across the country. First, lose the guilt. Whatever your reason, it is likely to add more meaning to your life than a few more days of office attendance. Your time with family, friends and for yourself is necessary to maintain multiple roles and identities as a person. Once you are convinced, work out the details.

If you can afford to be accommodating with your dates, then plan it such that there is minimal disturbance to your professional commitments. Check the schedule and identify days when your presence is necessary. Also, figure out how to meet deadlines that fall during your time away.

Identify someone who would be the point person replacing you for that period. Make sure to return the favour when they need a few days off. For most professionals, preferred dates for planned leaves are at the end of quarterly, half-yearly or yearly financial cycles, immediately after appraisal or after a project is completed.

An effective tool to avoid clashes is the annual leave planner - in which all team members enter preferred dates for long leaves of absence. The planner will also help initiate the conversation with your reporting manager about your leave.

The ideal way is to meet your boss in person and agree on the dates and then follow up with an official application. Do not choose a time when he is busy. Start the conversation by stating your requirement. Discuss alternatives that are least disruptive if your dates are not available. Finally, tell him how you plan to meet your deadlines while you are away.

Be open to discussing all of it if your manager has any reservations. Be willing to end the conversation with an agreement to decide later. This will give both of you time to consider the requests and come up with solutions. Be reasonable and honest so that future discussions are also easier.

There is also the choice between frequent short breaks or infrequent long ones. The former is more rejuvenating and it is also easier to get a short leave sanctioned. However, multiple absences tend to give the impression of a person who is always missing.

If you need a significantly long break, consider a sabbatical, which usually spans a couple of months or more. Do factor in the impact of such a move on your annual assessment, your reputation and what you can expect when you return to work. The organisation would need to find a temporary replacement if you are away for three to six months. This creates alternatives and builds competencies to deal with your absence.

Thus, you would need to work on your 'indispensability' quotient on return and, in some cases, you may even have to work towards regaining lost turf at the workplace.

Finally, make sure to make the most of the break. First, leave your work behind. Choose to travel to places where your Blackberry struggles to get signal (or not carry it at all). If you are going abroad, leave a message using your voice mail that says so to avoid unnecessary calls. Second, use your leave as a delegation tool.

Divide your responsibilities evenly within your team so that each person gets an opportunity to learn. Encourage them to take decisions in your absence so that you can look forward to returning to a better and more competent team that is able to handle greater responsibilities in the future.

Happy holidays!


BEFORE YOU TAKE TIME OFF

Manage mail:
Set up an auto-response containing your leave status, date of rejoining, person to be contacted and your availability in case of an emergency on your official mail id. Set up mail forwarding filters for important projects or clients.

Signatory in absence:
Do you have the authority to sanction expenses or sign cheques? Make sure that someone appropriate is designated as the signatory in your absence. Communicate the signing limits to the bank, accounts department and your team.

Decisions and deals:
Are there processes that require your inputs or decisions? Record your consent on mail for decision points that are likely to occur during your absence. Authorise team members to take action on contracts and renewable agreements.

Information flows:
Information flows in two directions. Your desk is a checkpoint and also a destination. Make sure that in the former scenario, the flow is uninterrupted in your absence (e.g invoices). Stop the latter at the source to prevent unauthorised access (e.g. hard copies of confidential audits).

Deadlines met:
Review all deadlines promised by you to external and internal clients and your manager. Map them out for your team and create deadlines for individuals so that goals are met during your absence. Renegotiate only when necessary rather than missing them.

** The writer is CEO, Quetzal Verify, an HR solutions company started by four IIM-Ahmedabad graduates.

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