The Law Society Gazette (July 20, 2018). 

By Caroline Field

To minimise the chance of disruption during a break, there is no substitute for detailed handover notes or a handover meeting before you head off. Handover notes should include a brief background, client details, details of what is likely to happen while you are away, where the files are and who is responsible for the matter in your absence. Circulate the notes to your team so they can manage clients and colleagues as to who is dealing with the matter in your absence.

Manage clients’ and colleagues’ expectation about your absence. No one likes to be taken by surprise. A reminder should be set in the form of an out of office message guiding them to someone who can direct their enquiry to the relevant person dealing with their matter in your absence, and stating whether you will have access to emails during your absence. In a world where there is an expectation that emails are read and digested the moment they are sent, it reduces the chance of an angry partner or client who otherwise believes you have read the email and expects action on it.

Check emails once a day and make clear to colleagues and clients when this is likely to be. This is not for the purpose of you then picking up the day’s work but to ensure that anything urgent is forwarded to the appropriate person dealing with the matter in your absence and nothing falls between the cracks.

Ideally, maintain two phones – a work phone from which you access work mail and a personal phone. You should restrict the circulation of your personal number. Subject to any specific agreement with clients or colleagues as set out above, switch off the work phone and ensure you have an appropriate out of office message to direct colleagues, clients and third parties to who they should contact to ensure the enquiry is appropriately directed in your absence (or get hold of you on your personal phone if necessary). On holiday, carry only your personal mobile on which you can be reached for urgent enquiries. In my experience, the temptation to look and follow what is going on in the office can be overwhelming, which doesn’t typically go down well with your holiday companion.

As a manager, set a good example and practice the actions above. It’s a delicate balance of ensuring colleagues know they have your support if an urgent query comes up that only you can answer but promoting holiday as a real break from the office, which research has shown has the potential to improve performance. We expect people to work hard when they are at work but it is important for health and well-being that time on holiday is time off. It also makes good business sense. There is a reason the Working Time Regulations prescribe the amount of paid time off employers must allow workers. There is evidence that people who do not take holiday are more likely to suffer illness. This has the potential for longer term problems for the well-being of a team than managing relatively short periods of annual leave.