Q: I have a couple of teammates who do a lousy job of handing off their work before they take time off. It doesn’t matter if it’s a day or two weeks; they just head out. What can I do to make their time off go more smoothly?
— Arun, 43, business analyst
A: If this is a pattern that you’ve just been letting go, it’s high time you take steps to know what to expect when they’re away.
The first thing to think about is your team dynamics. Is your boss heavily involved in managing the team’s work or are you self-directed?
In a boss-led group, start by going to your boss to state your needs for more clarity around vacation planning. You can do this without pointing fingers or could raise it as a discussion topic at a team meeting, again, without making it personal.
With any luck, your boss will step in to help manage the situation.
If you’re a more independent team (or your boss doesn’t come through), you could take a similar approach. However, in this case, you’d either raise the topic in a team meeting or one-on-one with your co-workers.
Keep your comments positive and focused on your needs. For example, “I want to provide the best possible coverage while you’re away, so let’s plan out what will need to be done.” This will get a much better response than, “It drives me crazy when …”
However, if you’re really frustrated and annoyed, spend some time processing those feelings. Otherwise they could creep through and you’ll just seem insincere if you try to sound positive.
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Keep in mind that if you’ve let a situation occur over and over without providing feedback, the other person may not even know that your needs are not being met. I’m wondering if this is a pattern for you and, if so, it’s one that could be having a negative impact in other aspects of your life.
Do your preparation. You probably have a sense of the things that could come your way, so lay out specific information you want about each project or task. Sit down together and get all this information ahead of time. This could be with your boss or just your colleague, depending on your team.
Also be sure to get names of contact people who could answer questions or provide support, especially for their longer out of office times.
This will help, but there will still be times when you haven’t gotten the information you need. Think about your options for handling them.
For example, do you take on more ownership than you need to, or make the situation more urgent than it really is?
Determine if the person who needs something can wait until your co-worker returns. Or look for other options to help them that will not cause you to neglect other responsibilities.
Do a debrief after your teammate returns, letting them know if there were issues that could have been avoided with better prep.
With preparation and planning, you’ll be better set up to avoid challenging surprises.