U of A News

Staff Are Encouraged to Use Their Vacation This Summer

VP (University Services and Finance) Todd Gilchrist encourages vacation as a way to maintain resilience and work-life balance.

  • June 17, 2021
  • By Todd Gilchrist

Through the past year, many of us have been faced with personal and professional challenges. Given the amount of change we have experienced, it is understandable that our university community is feeling fatigued and in need of some well-deserved rest. 

I realize it can be difficult to book days off when you are busy; I find it difficult myself. But scheduling time away, whether a day or two at a time or a week or more, is important for maintaining resilience and a healthy work-life balance. Vacation also contributes to better engagement, productivity, and satisfaction when at work. 

As we approach the summer months, I encourage you to use your vacation time to take a break and recharge to prepare for the fall—to step away from your screens, and enjoy the outdoors and some recreational time. Personally, I will be taking several long weekends to go camping with my family and to finish some renovations and landscaping around my home.

In addition to other vacation time, you may also want to benefit from taking some long weekends. For example, I encourage you to consider taking July 2 as a vacation day so you have an extra long weekend to enjoy. I also encourage managers to avoid setting deadlines or booking meetings for July 2 to support staff in taking a break. A list of further suggestions and tips for taking a break, and for how supervisors can support their teams, are provided below. 

Whatever your plans are this summer, I hope you are able to enjoy some relaxing and rejuvenating time away from work.

Take care,

Todd Gilchrist
Vice President, University Services and Finance

Suggestions for taking a break when you can’t take time off

1. The mindset of “everything is a priority” is not sustainable for long periods. 

Suggestion: If you have a heavy workload, discuss it with your supervisor and identify priorities. For example, if you are in back-to-back meetings on a regular basis, start scheduling blocks of desk time in your calendar to focus on tasks or projects you feel you are falling behind on. 

2. The lines between work time and personal time are easily blurred with work from home arrangements. You may struggle to “turn off” work when your office and home are the same place. 

Suggestion: Be intentional about your start and end times, your breaks, and your lunch hours. Block the time off as “busy” in your calendar if necessary. 

3. If you are unable to schedule a holiday right now and have noticed yourself starting to feel stressed or overwhelmed, here are some ways you can decompress with a brief mental vacation during the workday:

  • Take a walk or get your body moving. Physical activity—however brief—will help release tension in both your body and mind.
  • Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths to reset. 
  • Go outside. Take a book or magazine to your front step and enjoy some fresh air. Consider having lunch outside now that the weather is warmer.
  • Switch gears from a complex project and put on music while you do a routine, simple or repetitive task for a few minutes. 
  • Grab a snack when you feel “hangry”. 

How managers and supervisors can help

Leaders play an important role in making sure our staff feel balanced, cared for and supported. That includes making them feel comfortable with taking time off, even during these fast-paced, high-pressure periods. Some staff may be worried about protecting their jobs; others may worry about appearing to not be working hard enough. If they need a break, it’s better to be proactive by preventing burnout. 

Aside from encouraging vacation days, here are some ways we can support our teams: 

  • Be a role model for taking a real vacation: when you take a holiday, don’t check your email or work while you are away; it sends the message that staff are expected to do that too. 
  • Adjust work patterns to be more conducive to time off, like keeping one day a week meeting-free.
  • Reduce regular meeting times from 60 minutes to 50, or 30 minutes to 20 minutes, to limit screen fatigue, allow for breaks, complete easy action items, and improve attention.
  • Help staff balance workloads, ease up on emails and try to make fewer requests.
  • Plan outdoor meetings: have staff take laptops or phones to their backyard or balcony for remote meetings when it’s nice outside.
  • Reduce workloads and consider shifting new projects to the fall.
  • Model compassion, empathy, care and positive health practices to encourage healthy behaviours among staff. 
  • Normalize conversations about mental health. Share your personal experience with COVID-19 and mental health.

Please review vacation leave balances and help staff plan to use their entitlement. See the Managing Staff Vacation procedure for additional information about managing vacation for support staff, and refer to the associated collective agreements and handbooks for other employee types. Note: Collective agreement provisions and university policies related to accrual, use, and carryforward of vacation still apply.