Time Off Tips from HR Departments of One

Can you ever unplug when you’re the only HR game in town? Yes, by planning and prioritizing, according to these four solo practitioners.

By Christina Folz Jul 18, 2017
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We asked four HR departments of one share their strategies for making sure the job gets done while they’re on vacation. Here's what they had to say:

Taking time off is an important part of staying at the top of my game and avoiding burnout. Here are three best practices I use:

Plan around key dates and busy seasons. I map out my vacations just like my annual goals, with strategy and a little breathing room. I often take time off right after a planned transition when I’m needed in the office—such as open enrollment or a project end date. 

Pick the low-hanging fruit. I prioritize my deadline-specific tasks—what’s due next versus what is further out—and complete as many of the “quick wins” as I can before leaving.

Make work accessible anywhere. There will always be fires to put out. Planning for those times helps limit any disruptions. That includes using app-based communication tools—like Slack and Outlook Mobile—that help me offer timely input and responses, even while away.

—Mikyala S. Clayton, SHRM-CP, director of HR, The Fund for Global Human Rights, Washington, D.C.

I break my work up into three categories: must, maybe and nope. I then determine what needs to be done before I leave and what can be completed while I am gone, as well as what must be done by me versus others. For a task that can be done by others, I distribute it a few days before I leave in case there are any questions. I generally find myself working extra hours in the days before I take time off so I will feel less behind when I return. 

I have received some great words of wisdom from the partners of the firm: “There is never a good time to take off work, so time it the best you can, schedule it and go.” That mindset is a big part of the reason I enjoy returning to work. 

—Adam Hoffman, SHRM-CP, director of talent development, Porte Browne LLC, Elk Grove Village, Ill.

It can be challenging for someone who is an HR department of one to get out of the office, but I’ve found that investing my time and energy in planning pays off. Because I work hard to be a trusted partner, managers, staff and even vendors are willing to collaborate with me in preparing for my absence. I message everyone, early and often, about the dates I’ll be out, and most staff are willing to wait until I return for nonemergency responses. 

I talk to managers proactively about issues they are facing so no one shows up in my office with a surprise the Friday afternoon before I leave town. I mentor colleagues who are interested in HR and allow them the opportunity to back me up in specific areas. And I document everything—not just in preparation for vacation, but as part of succession planning and as a best practice. If the unexpected happens while I’m away, my manager can walk through my processes and handle anything that comes her way. 

—Anne Tomkinson, senior manager, human resources and operations at DC Public Charter School Board, Washington, D.C. 

As an HR department of one, I find it hard to ever be on vacation. Even when you’re gone, you still need to be “available,” whether it is via text message, Skype or e-mail. I always try to plan accordingly for my absence and anticipate anything that might be needed while I am out. I try to make forms available and make sure others have my contact information should any situations arise. It’s also a good idea to parcel out your work to three or four trusted associates with some knowledge of HR. Whether we want to believe it or not, the place can function without us.

—Dave Ryan, SHRM-SCP, director of HR, Mel-O-Cream Donuts, Springfield, Ill. 

Illustration by Brucie Rosch for HR Magazine.

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