Why ‘out of the office’ should mean what it says, says St Albans and District Chamber of Commerce president David Clarke

St Albans District Chamber of Commerce president David Clarke. Picture: DANNY LOO

St Albans District Chamber of Commerce president David Clarke. Picture: DANNY LOO - Credit: Archant

The start of the school holidays is about to be heralded by a huge reduction in morning traffic, free seats on London-bound trains and the sound of kids having fun in our parks and at our tourist attractions.

For me, it is also the time when I am fortunate enough to share some quality family time on our annual summer holiday, which generally provides a fabulous mix of entertainment, lasting memories and vital relaxation.

It wasn’t always like this though. In fact, as I look back on some of our earlier family holidays, I wonder whether I actually relaxed at all.

When I go away from the office these days for a prolonged period of leave, I truly disengage from the business until my return. This means enabling my email out of office, closing the laptop, turning off the blackberry, diverting my mobile to voicemail and trusting my colleagues to do a great job in my absence.

The consequence of these actions is that I am able to truly take a break, re-energise and return to the business fully refreshed and genuinely excited to be back.

Ten years ago however, this was not my way of working.

I would breeze out of the office, letting everyone know that I was freely contactable during my holiday and would be keeping an eye on my emails.

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Things came to a head however in a hotel room in Egypt, when I found myself negotiating the finer points of a business transaction when I should have been playing with the kids by the pool.

The inevitable stress, coupled with such situations along with the inability to switch off from matters back at work, essentially resulted in feeling like I hadn’t been on holiday at all.

Not delegating and switching off from matters back at the office during a planned break is in my opinion detrimental to both ourselves, our work colleagues and our businesses.

In the first instance, what does it say about our opinion of colleagues working with or around us when we effectively indicate that we do not trust them to make a decision in our absence and expect all matters to be referred to us for a decision?

One of the key reasons for progression in my early career was the ability to make decisions afforded to me by business leaders in the pre-mobile era.

If the business leader or owner was out of the office, there was usually simply no way of contacting them and as such a decision simply needed to be taken and therefore I took it.

I would argue that the proliferation of mobile phone calls and emails has encouraged business leaders and owners to take on too much responsibility, when they would be far better focusing on the immediate matter they are dealing with - whilst simultaneously empowering those around them to take the initiative and gain valuable experience along the way.

So as my summer holiday approaches I will be practising what I preach and feel, comfortable knowing that the team I work with have the skills, experience and level of empowerment to keep the business moving forward safely while I take the opportunity to recharge the batteries and return to the office refreshed and energised.

If you are having a summer break, then I wish you a very relaxing uninterrupted holiday.