Wellness Wednesday: Having trouble leaving your ‘work brain’ behind on your summer vacation?

June 16, 2021  //  FOUND IN: Updates & Resources,
Illustration of a brain, with one side showing people working in an office and the other showing people outdoors enjoying the summer.

Are you struggling to unplug and unwind as the summer heats up?

No worries. The High Reliability skill of Chain of Command — along with some old-fashioned planning — can ease your mind and help you recharge before returning to work.

Michigan Medicine’s recent engagement results show many employees struggle with work-life balance issues, often replying negatively when asked to respond to these statements:

  • I am able to disconnect from work communications during my free time (email, text, etc).
  • I am able to free my mind from work when I am away from it.
  • I can enjoy my personal time without focusing on work matters.

Chain of Command has your back

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed in a world where 24/7 email access can rob us of our need to unplug and work expectations, or our own overachieving nature, can sabotage our own “downtime.”

We think of the High Reliability skill of Chain of Command (the reporting structure within a department) as something we use when we need to escalate and solve a tough issue. But have you thought of it as a stress reliever?

If you have a strong chain of command in place within your department, you can follow it up or down the chain to determine who can support you with any of your current tasks or responsibilities while you are away on a vacation or even a long weekend break. 

It was common for vacations to become interrupted with work or even end early for Carolyn Cole-Brown, associate chief operating officer for UH medical, emergency and psychiatric services. But that all changed when she leaned on her team and their chain of command this year as she planned her two-week vacation (almost unheard of in her 22 years with Michigan Medicine).

“I considered who could possibly take care of every responsibility and I went to each person and asked them, ‘would you be willing to be the point person during these two weeks,’ well in advance,” Cole-Brown said. “I then sent emails to everyone in every department I worked with, and, of course, my own team, telling them who would be responsible for which tasks while I was away. More than 60 people were informed. That was also shared on my out of office email. Everything was very descriptive.”

Due to the new process, Cole-Brown not only enjoyed a stress-free vacation, but a much less cluttered email box on her return. 

“I normally received more than 100 emails per day upon returning from PTO, and so I was expecting around 1,500 emails, but this time I had half of that,” she said.

Teaching skills, building trust

The pile of emails revealed another plus of this new method for getting away. All the emails were for her awareness of the work that was accomplished while she was away, but not for work that needed her immediate attention. The team had stepped up and accomplished everything in her absence.

“When we use our chain of command properly in this way it gives us a chance to mentor and cross-train people into new skills,” she said. “Everyone really stepped up. My biggest tips for those who want to successfully leave their work to others so they can relax is to be thoughtful about your directions, give good notice about who you are leaving the work to and then trust your team to do the job.”

If you need assistance updating or developing a Chain of Command for your department or team, check out these High Reliability Chain of Command Tools.

For additional ways to reduce workplace stress and achieve better work-life balance, check out the Stress+Burnout Task Force Toolkit

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