Across America, folks are packing their beach bags, their hiking boots…and their laptops. When you head out on vacation and take work with you—how do you make the most of it? If you find yourself confused about how best to navigate this strange hybrid of business and pleasure, you’re not alone, says workplace trends expert Rick Grimaldi.

“Working vacations, as they used to be called, have always been the norm for successful people,” notes Grimaldi, author of the new book FLEX: A Leader’s Guide to Staying Nimble and Mastering Transformative Change in the American Workplace . “But moving forward, this arrangement will apply to more and more of the workforce. And learning how to manage it can be tricky.”

Part of the reason for so many working vacations is the pace and intensity of business: very few of us can totally unplug for two weeks at a time anymore. To a degree, work responsibilities will creep in. But it’s also a natural outcome of a larger trend toward work/life integration.            

“This trend isn’t a bad thing because it’s enabling flexibility,” says Grimaldi. “Yes, work is spilling into personal lives, but also the reverse is true. It’s great that employees are feeling more and more empowered to set their own hours, work from home offices at least part of the time, and better accommodate their family’s needs.”            

That said, people do need real down time. Burnout is a huge issue right now. You have to make the “vacation” part of the work/vacation hybrid really count or you’ll come back to work frustrated, tired, and resentful.             

“Vacation is a state of mind,” says Grimaldi. “Switching from one world to the other can be challenging. For example, you might get bad news on a work call, and then have trouble moving back into the vacation mindset. It can be tough to be present with your family when your mind is at the office.”             

A few tips for doing working vacations better:  

Rather than straddling both worlds all day, plan to work in big chunks of time. For example, block off mornings from 7:00 to 10:00 to work. Then, when that time block ends, shut down the computer and put the phone away. “What typically happens is that people spend the day looking at email on their phones and they never really disengage,” says Grimaldi. 

Draw some hard lines… “Having ill-defined boundaries is where people go wrong,” says Grimaldi. “They try to do both things at once and end up doing neither of them well.” But also know when to break the boundary. There are exceptions to every rule, and there will always be work emergencies or client calls that can’t wait. This is when you may need to get creative to meet the needs of both work and family. 

“Once, years ago, I was on a family vacation in Puerto Rico,” says Grimaldi. “I convinced my daughter she would have fun hiking up a mountain with me (which she did) but, in part, it was a ruse so I could get cell reception for a call! We both had fun, I handled business, and it became the stuff of family legend.”  

Leaders, establish cultural rules inside your company that respect employees’ time. “There should be an unwritten rule that you reach out to someone on vacation only if there’s no other option,” says Grimaldi. “When everyone respects everyone else’s time and space, you’ve gone a long way toward creating a culture that attracts and retains the best talent.”             

When you learn to manage this process well, it can be an incredible experience, says Grimaldi. On the other hand, if you don’t, it can be a disaster both professionally and personally. “Being able to flex and work around a family schedule can be quite useful,” he says. “It takes the right mindset, a little advance planning, and some clear communication to mix business and leisure time—but it can be done and done well.”     

About Rick Grimaldi

Rick Grimaldi is a workplace trends expert and the author of FLEX: A Leader’s Guide to Staying Nimble and Mastering Transformative Change in the American Workplace. Rick’s unique perspective comes from his diverse career in high-ranking public service positions, as a human resources and labor relations professional for an international hi-tech company, and presently in private practice as a partner with Fisher Phillips, LLP, one of America’s preeminent management side labor and employment law firms. Day to day, Rick works with companies to help them adapt to the ever-changing business environment, achieve their workplace goals, and become better employers. Rick is an internationally recognized writer and keynote speaker, and has been selected through a peer review process as one of The Best Lawyers in America© in three of the last four years.  

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