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Tell your people to take a (real) holiday

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George Avery, director of HR for IBM’s Asia Pacific systems and technology group sales, believes the best way to improve employee engagement is to encourage staff to take real vacations away from work.

There is quite a lot of focus lately on the topic of employee engagement and how organisations can improve it.

I know many leaders are struggling with how exactly they go about impacting the engagement of their people, but the reality is that engagement is a two-way proposition. The organisation needs to demonstrate a set of actions and behaviours to provide the foundation for engaged employees.

The other element here that is often not discussed is the employee’s active participation and decision to be engaged. Without both sides working in conjunction real engagement will not happen.

So, how do leaders get their people to make this decision to be engaged?

Before we go any further let me share a personal story. Two months ago I took a few days for a holiday with my family. This was the first “real” vacation I have had in more than a year.

We went to the beach in hopes of relaxing in the sand and some swimming in the ocean and pool at our hotel. The first day we arrived my two boys set up their toys and started digging in the sand. I proceeded to sit and stare at the ocean, the sky and my children happily playing.

My thoughts did not drift to work or my unread emails that were potentially building up. In fact, my mind was completely blank.

That entire first day I just relaxed and didn’t drift to think about work at all. It was exactly the kind of decompression people talk about when they talk about going on holiday.

The second day I began to think about work, but not the day-to-day items that were inevitably piling up. I thought about where I was in my career and if I was happy. I asked myself a series of questions to see if I would be happier at another organisation.

It took a holiday away from the office and in an environment that allowed my mind to catalogue where I was, and then to make the conscious decision of where I wanted to be.
George Avery, HR director, systems and technology group sales, IBM Asia Pacific.

I went through this exercise between naps by my children, as I sat digging in the sand and just relaxing watching the waves roll in. I ended this few days confirming that I was happy in my current organisation and that it provided me the correct opportunities professionally.

Because I came to this decision about where I wanted to be, it allowed me a sense of excitement about the future and thus fostering the critical emotional attachment that makes real engagement a reality.

I share this story because I think organisations need to address both sides of the engagement challenge – from the perspective of the organisation and from that of the employee.

For me, it took a holiday away from the office and in an environment that allowed my mind to catalogue where I was, and then to make the conscious decision of where I wanted to be.

An organisation can try a number of ways to create an engaged workforce, but unless that decision is reciprocated you won’t really have a high level of engagement. So maybe managers should implore their people to take some time to think about this and make their own personal decision.

It doesn’t have to be a beach vacation, but it’s important people have time to analyse their current situation and come to the conclusion they want to be part of their current organisation versus moving somewhere else. This level of personal commitment will be necessary to have both elements of the engagement loop closed.

The other side of this is that employees that come to the conclusion this isn’t the correct organisation for them. Then, they can begin the process to exit. But as long as it’s their own choice then I think this is also okay.

The end result is more of a feeling of empowerment by each individual. This can be the final piece in the engagement puzzle for many organisations.

Image: Shutterstock

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