5 Top Tips for Vacation Communication

Your next vacation doesn’t have to cause a wave.

We weren’t meant to spend the summer cooped up inside an office. In fact, many companies are now advocating for a balanced lifestyle and are encouraging their staff to take advantage of available vacation days.

But with great vacations comes great responsibility. And just as you would prepare for a meeting, you should also prepare for your absences. Far too often a vacation can interrupt an important project, deal or client relationship and derail the progress of your team. However, this process can also flow smoothly if you take the right steps.  It all depends on how effectively you communicate with your colleagues, your clients and yourself.


Heres are our 5 Best Tips for vacation communication:

 Give notice about your vacation well in advance

Whether you’ve booked your vacation a year or a month in advance, your team deserves a fair warning about your travels. Consider the amount of stress and inconvenience you may impose on your colleagues with a last-minute announcement about your two-week trip to Iceland, a week before you board the plane. Everyone needs time to prepare – yourself included. After all, these are the colleagues who will absorb your workload while you’re away.

We recommend giving everyone at least one month notice if possible, especially if you have a larger role within your organization. Set reminders in the weeks and days leading up to your departure so there are no surprises to a forgetful or busy employee. Don’t catch anyone off guard; open dialogue is a must.

Delegate jobs and tasks in your absence

Leave no stone unturned. Over-prepare for every possible situation, task or crisis. Pull colleagues aside and ask them to take over specific responsibilities and be sure to train them thoroughly on the work you are leaving them with.  Is someone stepping into your client meetings? Brief them on specific client needs and details. Will someone take over a special project for you? Give them a detailed list of what needs to be completed.

Prepare a relief document outlining where specific files are located, who to talk to about certain projects or what to do in the event of an emergency. You don’t want to be bombarded with panicked emails while you lay on the beach. It’s better to be safe than sorry and leave your projects in capable hands.

Set up clear out-of-office voicemail greetings and automatic email replies

Your team may know your whereabouts, but your clients or contacts likely will not. We highly recommended reaching out to important contacts and alerting them of your vacation.

Construct a clear and impactful voicemail greeting and include the dates of your vacation and return. Leave an alternate contact that can address your client’s enquires and take care of any pressing matters before you leave. There is nothing more annoying on the client’s side than receiving a vacation notification in the middle of an important project without notice.

More importantly, if you’re providing an alternate contact in your out-of-office messages, be sure to get their permission in advance. This will prevent awkward encounters and ensure your co-worker is well aware that they may be called upon.

If you do email while on vacation, be sure to keep all communication brief and to the point

No one enjoys writing long emails on their smartphone. Similarly, reading run-on emails sent from a mobile device can be a frustrating experience. Despite our best intentions, they’re often full of auto-corrected typos and have than less than ideal formatting.

When responding to an email on vacation (although we advise against it whenever possible), keep all written communication short and concise. Think about your greater message, structure it into a few key points and relay that message back to your team. Point forms are ideal, and always be sure to summarize your argument at the end of the email to reinforce the message. This prevents follow-up questions so you can get back to relaxing.

Don’t skip a beat! Have a plan to slide right back into work

Returning to the office after a vacation can often be a job within itself. You arrive back to a pile of email threads, missed calls, memos, status updates, potential issues, pressing questions and a staff who expect you to jump right back in where you left off.

Plan ahead for all your post-vacation tasks and execute them the moment you walk into the office. We suggest arranging a catch-up meeting with a few members of your team to discuss what occurred. Organize your email inbox and tackle the most pressing issues first. Keep an open and honest dialogue with your team so you can go over all details and progress on projects or tasks that you missed.

The better you communicate the more effective and productive your team becomes!


A vacation is meant to help balance your life with the ever-demanding responsibilities of your career. Your health and well-being is important. Don’t be afraid to unplug and wind down – just make sure you use our advice on vacation communication.

Why Creating a Winning Culture Matters

By Dave Ulrich

Business success is not only about individual talent

Deloitte’s human capital trends for 2015 and 2016 found that organisation issues (culture, organisational design) were the top human resource (HR) issues. Some companies (Disney, Marriott) are trying to maintain their culture, others want to change it (General Electric, Apple), and others want to embed it (Google, Facebook). Top HR leaders share the same message: the war for talent is evolving and needs to evolve toward creating victory through organisation.

Read more about why Creating a Winning Culture Matters

Published in Skyways Insight Magazine – August 2016

Serious About Simplicity

Ron Ashkenas, author of Simply Effective, suggests that complexity in business has emerged due to a combination of product mitosis, product proliferation, process evolution and poor managerial habits. These factors combine to land many businesses in a world of complexity and silo thinking and complicated work processes.  Ashkenas also suggests that one of the biggest, and often hidden, causes of complexity is the individual. Yes, that’s right – you!  It’s all your fault.  You did this!  But the great thing is that if you created the problem, then you surely have the talent to solve it.  Cue ‘Simplicity.’

If you’re ready to take the topic of simplicity seriously, and consider adopting it as a core business strategy (not a “we really should” but a deliberate, strategic focus for your business), then read on.

Ashkenas suggests you start with these four areas, which he believes to be primed for delivering value.  

  1. Streamline the organisation, or as Norman Kobert once said ‘Cut the fat, not the muscle”.  Companies are often resource heavy, process burdened, and policy proliferate.  Cut out what you don’t need, and make a deliberate effort to combine products, reduce lines, stick to the core.  
  2. Prune products, services and features to focus on those that are profitable and have the biggest growth potential.  Get rid of dead weight “stuff” that isn’t bringing in value.  Can you really turn 2% of revenue business into your biggest opportunity, or can you cull those things that don’t deliver, and get focused back on your core?
  3. Process – disciplined process.  Build pragmatic processes into your business that drive the right behaviours for your leadership and your teams.  Make what you capture relevant, useful and support fact-based, informed decision making.  Take a rigorous look at your processes and ask the question: is this necessary?  Do we really need this or could we do without it?
  4. Improve managerial habits.  Life would certainly be simpler (but so much sadder) were it not for other people. For the value of simplicity to realize benefits, it’s important to drive it home in behaviour. Ritualistic repetition, and supporting the value through consistent change and communication, are the factors most likely to reap rewards.  In short, consider making simplicity a cult if you want to make it part of your culture.  The gift is that everyone wins as the benefits reap rewards for both the business and the people who live in it.

Performance Management Faces Major Paradox

Gone are the days of performance reviews. Dave Ulrich explains to Alan Hosking from HR Future how companies can resolve the performance management paradox by clarifying expectations, defining consequences, establishing metrics and standards, and bringing it all together through conversation. In what way is the thinking on performance management changing? A senior leader at a company recently said, “We have done away with performance appraisal because it causes so many problems.”

Read More


Employee Engagement Gap

Dr. Caren ScheepersEmployee Engagement

“Imagine a time when you were highly absorbed and engaged at work. What were the circumstances that caused this attentiveness and engagement? What did you feel at the time, what did you see, what did you hear and what did you smell? Make that experience vivid in your mind. Let your body actually experience the feeling now.” This is an exercise that I regularly start off with when I facilitate workshops on the topic “Employee Engagement”. As you read this article you are welcome to participate. You can even partake in the next exercise, by asking a colleague to work with you.

“Now choose a partner to work with and show your partner how you literally step into those circumstances and personal experience. What your partner then needs to do is to notice attentively what you look like, sound like, your body posture and your facial expression. The next step is to mimic it so that you can see clearly how your posture for instance changes when you are truly engaged or in the zone”. You have to take turns in this exercise, obviously. It has an added benefit of practice how to “tune in” to where other people are at by mimicking their non-verbal behaviour. Consequently, it allows us to become aware of how others feel and as a result build rapport with them. The question to discuss then is, “When last have you felt this invigorated at work?” and a follow up question, “How big is the gap between what you experience when you are fully engaged and your current work circumstances?”

Having observed numerous of these exercises, I realised that it is clear when employees are engaged and that it is actually quite contagious. Other observations were that the more upright body postures generally brought positive energy into the room and lasted long after the exercise. Neuropsychology explains this phenomenon by biochemical neurotransmitters in our brains that are activated by the imaginary incident, which also explains why we would feel fearful of circumstances that have not yet taken place (Scheepers & Jooste, 2012).

Tuning into our own awareness of being engaged or withdrawn as well as to others’ experiences, teaches us intuitively what engagement is about. Employee engagement is topical currently and mostly practitioners have been writing about this phenomenon. Lately, it luckily also grabbed the interest of academia that quite frankly wanted to find out whether employee engagement was only the latest “fad of the month”. Empirical studies followed that were published in top tier journals. For instance, the seminal work of Saks (2006) on the antecedents and consequences of employee engagement has academic rigour and provides scientific evidence for what we regularly experience intuitively in our daily work lives.

Nonetheless, mainly two exponents provided the theoretical foundation for employee engagement. Kahn (1990, p.694) defined it as ”employing themselves physically, cognitively, and emotionally…in varying degrees.” In turn, Maslach (2001) who conducted more than 30 years of research, contrasted engagement with burnout, another phenomenon that we often come across in our highly stressful modern work environments. Her research revealed that burnout was the opposite of being engaged and the face validity of her study is high when we consider that vigour and dedication constitute engagement, whereas exhaustion, cynicism and withdrawal illustrate the opposite. Later research of Schaufeli et al (2002) confirmed Maslach’s notion of engagement and burnout being antipodes.

You might ask whether engagement is similar to commitment. Robinson et al (2004) pointed out in this regard, that engagement is more than commitment and more than an attitude. It is rather the degree to which an employee is attentive and absorbed in their work. Saks’ (2006) research provided evidence that commitment is actually a consequence of engagement. Furthermore, we can differentiate between job and organisational engagement. As a result, this article will focus on these two aspects.

a)         Job engagement 

Some people are highly engaged with their organisations, whereas others are actually engaged with their discipline or type of work and do not care where they conduct this job. These employees find meaning in the content of their work. Interestingly, job engagement increases when people have more contact with the beneficiaries of their work (Grant, 2012). Consequently, organisations must make a concerted effort to get back-office employees in contact with external or internal customers who are impacted by the quality of their work or lack thereof.

For the last 7 years, I have been lecturing on the GIBS MBA Module: Organisational Development and Transformation and I regularly asked these students whether they experience quality of work life. Sadly, over the years few of the MBA’s could declare that they were experiencing quality of work life. We often discussed Hackman and Oldham’s (1980) recommendations of bringing more of themselves into their work or being more engaged by: ensuring jobs are challenging, having variety, conducting significant tasks, allowing for personal discretion and making an important contribution. These students reported that getting feedback on their performance also increased meaningfulness of their jobs.

An interesting theory that could be associated with job engagement is the Social Exchange Theory or (SET) that implies that employees, who are provided with challenging and enriched jobs, feel obliged to reciprocate by responding with higher levels of engagement (Saks, 2006). On the other hand, when employees do not feel supported by colleagues or they do not get appropriate recognition and rewards, it leads to the burnout syndrome (Maslach et al, 2001). Kahn’s (1990) research revealed that our careers could constitute a series of leaps of engagement and falls of disengagement as well as that the person-role dynamics are complex.

b)         Organisational engagement 

Schaufeli and Bakker (2004) found that engaged employees have a greater attachment to their organisation. As a result, they have a lower intention to quit. Furthermore, they are involved in extra-role behaviour or being good organisational citizens and contribute to the greater organisation and not only to their own department or division.

I found it disappointing that in contrast, numerous executives on Senior Management Programmes found it difficult to articulate the social value that their organisations were creating and rather focused on financial results, whereas without financial results the organisation would anyway not be able to sustain itself. Nonetheless, through firstly meeting human needs by producing products or delivering services, organisations are able to declare financial returns and sustain the business. To the contrary, luckily organisations in South Africa like Nedbank, Woolworths, Nampak and FNB utilize corporate social responsibility projects as team building exercises and to build pride in their organisation’s contribution to society and subsequently organisational engagement.

Perceived procedural justice or fairness with regards to distribution of resources also influences organisational engagement (Rhoades et al, 2001). Conversely, a lack of fairness can exacerbate burnout (Maslach et al, 2001). Another dimension to consider is the Psychological Contract (Rousseau, 2004) with the resultant two-way relationship where employees receive economic and socio-emotional resources from the organisation and they respond in kind and repay the organisation by being psychologically present or engaged. We found in a specific study around this psychological contract that the human resources practice that had the most important relationship with the relational contract was training and development (Scheepers & Shuping, 2011). Consequently, investing in employees’ development would result in them perceiving that they are important to the organisation and they would reciprocate with loyalty to the organisation.

In closing, it is important to note that in the USA the engagement gap or lost of productivity cost due to employees being disengaged is estimated at $300 billion per annum (Kowalski, 2003). We do not have South African statistics to report however, the engagement gap remains an important phenomenon to investigate and I invite more researchers to conduct qualitative and quantitative studies to provide scientific evidence of the antecedents and consequences of employee engagement.

Follow Dave Ulrich on twitter: @dave_ulrich


  • Grant, A. M. (2012). Leading with meaning: Beneficiary contact, prosocial impact, and the performance effects of transformational leadership, Academy of Management Journal, 55 (2), 458-476.
  • Hackman, J. R. & Oldham, G. R. (1980). Work Redesign, Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA.
  • Kahn, W. A. (1990). Psychological conditions of personal engagement and disengagement at work, Academy of Management Journal, 33 (4), 692-724.
  • Kowalski, B. (2003). The Engagement Gap, Training, 40 (4), 62, as cited in Saks, A. M. (2006). Antecedents and consequences of employee engagement. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 21 (7), 600-619.
  • Maslach,C., Schaufelli, W. B. & Leiter, M. P. (2001). Job Burnout. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 397-422.
  • Rhoades, L., Eisenberger, R. & Armeli, S. (2001). Affective commitment to the organisation: the contribution of perceived organisational support, Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 825-836.
  • Rousseau, D. M. (2004). Psychological contracts in the workplace: Understanding the ties that motivate, Academy of Management Executive, 18(1), 120-127.
  • Saks, A. M. (2006). Antecedents and consequences of employee engagement. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 21 (7), 600-619.
  • Schaufeli, W. B., Salanova, M., Gonzalez-Roma, V. & Bakker, A.B. (2002). The measurement of engagement and burnout: a two sample confirmatory factor analysis approach, Journal of Happiness Studies, 3 (3), 71-92.
  • Schaufeli, W. B & Baker, A. B. (2004). Job demands, job resources, and their relationship with burnout and engagement: a multi-sample study, Journal of Organisational Behaviour, 25, 293-315.
  • Scheepers, C. B. & Jooste, M. (2012). Neuroleadership informs internal business coaches on change, COMENSANews, Nov 30.
  • Scheepers, C. B. & Shuping, J. G. (2011). The effect of human resource practices on the psychological contract at an iron ore mining company in South Africa. South Africa Journal of Human Resources Management, 9(1), 1-19.

Dave Ulrich’s Investor Literacy Test for HR Professionals

Dave Ulrich asks this, “If an investment analyst was a “fly on the wall” in any of your HR meetings would their decision to invest in your company be, BUY, SELL or HOLD? “ At these times HR has the number one opportunity to build investor confidence in their organisations.


Research by accounting professors shows that the regression between earnings and shareholders value has traditionally between 75 and 90.7 %. This means that in the past 75 – 90% of the market value of an organisation could be predicted by the financial performance of the firm. However since then, this percentage has dropped to about 50% in both up and down markets. So if their predictions are not so clearly tied to present earnings, how else do investors predict the market value of your organisation?  They are tied to what the financial community call intangibles or the value of the organisation not directly derived from physical assets. They are about the choices leaders make about what happens inside their firm and how investors value those decisions. Intangibles do include R & D, technology and brand decisions but organisation and people are what give investor’s confidence in future earnings.

Investors admire Apple for great product design, Disney for great service and Google for innovation but are patently aware that this success all hinges on the people.

For HR Professionals to deliver value to investors, they must first become fluent in the language their own particular investors speak and fully research the reasons why they invest in their organisation. If value is defined by the receiver more than the giver Dave Ulrich suggests you consistently and deliberately engage with your investors.

Dave Ulrich’s Investor Literacy Test for HR Professionals assesses your base of knowledge to link your good HR work to investor priorities.

1.       Who are your 5 major shareholders?

2.      What percentage do each of them own?

3.      Why do they own you? What are their investing criteria?

a.      Dividend stock

b.      Growth market

c.      Etc.

4.      What is your tangible value?

5.      What is your intangible value?

6.     What is your P/E ratio for the last decade?

7.      Who are the top analysts who follow your industry?

8.      How do they view your company vs your competitors?

9.     How are you including key investors and analysts in the design and delivery of your HR practices?     [Succession planning, leadership development, reward & recognition]

10.     How well does your board govern itself – not just on institutional shareholder service criteria but on the process for good board governance?

More investors are assessing the path between HR investment and business performance. They expect it to be clear and believe that good HR architecture in staffing, training & development, leadership development, communication, compensation and governance lead to positive business outputs. The alignment of a business’s strategy and HR practices is pivotal to investors. Employee commitment is also a lead indicator of customer commitment which is a lead indicator of profitability. At a time where financial performance is in many organisations not quite what it used to be, HR have the number one opportunity to build investor confidence.

Business Results Group and GIBS will be bringing Dave to South Africa to present his 13 milestones for HR to transcend the way the deliver measurable value to their organisations. In JHB on 27 May and Cape Town on 28 May.

Professor Dave Ulrich

Dave has consulted and done research with over half of the Fortune 200. His honours exude a consistent track record of global influence and authority in human resources and business management.  His research is based on collective feedback from over 60 000 line managers and HR professionals on the competencies required to improved business performance.

An accomplished and celebrated educator Dave is sought after the world over to present his findings and educate businesses. He has published over 200 articles and book chapters and over 25 books which he has co-authored with numerous fellow thought leaders.