Can Your Organization Survive Your Absence?

The staff of UBA is a diverse and talented group of people, but we have our limits. We’re also playing a few people short on our team since the beginning of April when Rickie Bradshaw left to take a new role at KSBJ and I became Executive Director. We’re working on some exciting things in the staffing area that I’ll be able to announce soon, but as you might imagine, we need all hands on deck right now.


Oh, did I forget to mention that this year is when Dian Kidd will be out of the office on sabbatical? Dian, Associate Director and UBA employee since 1990, who oversees the functions of the consultant team, the funding requests to the BGCT, and a multitude of other internal functions, is away for the next 10 weeks.   


It would only take me a minute to construct a pretty convincing argument for why this is the worst possible time for Dian, a key member of our leadership team, to be absent from the office. But that is exactly where discipline comes to the rescue. If we use discipline to remain true to our values of people and learning, then it reminds us of all that the entire association gains while Dian is on sabbatical.


Time Away is Necessary For Everyone

Since sabbaticals are part of the rhythm at UBA, our team prepares well in advance to share the load presented by those who will be gone. Every team member works to staff out their responsibilities and if necessary, train up team members to execute those functions in their absence. In essence, sabbaticals force us as a team to cross-train, and we are better as a result.


But any time away, from sabbaticals to sick time, are necessary for the person taking the time, as well. We use sabbaticals to focus on learning and experiences that aren’t possible in the context of the everyday grind. Vacations are necessary to rest and recharge. When a team member comes back from any time off, the team is better, because the returning team member is better. Therefore, the work that gets done is better.


Does Your Church Encourage Time Away?

One of the signs of a healthy organization is how employees are encouraged to take time off. Companies that make it difficult for employees to take time off or visibly struggle when key employees are out of the office, fail to understand that their best resource is their people. Unfortunately, churches are notorious for not providing enough time off. They give shorter vacation times than secular companies while requiring their employees to work 80+ hours a week. Furthermore, ministers are notorious workaholics. That’s understandable since it requires a certain personality to sign up to work all hours and be the person on call when other people experience the worst moments of their lives.


In recent years, I’ve detected a shift among ministers that perhaps taking time away isn’t as frowned upon as it once was. Or perhaps those people are taking time off and still checking their email and Twitter feed from the cabin they rented! And to be sure, there is an appropriate balance between too much time away from the office and too much time in it. But assuming you’re not a slacker and need some tips about doing time away well, I offer the following suggestions:


1. Set Organizational Expectations

I’m of the opinion that everyone should know when you’re on vacation, because it creates a natural defense barrier. The more people who know you’re away, the fewer will send emails needing timely responses. Make every effort to tie off loose ends before you leave, and set deadlines far enough away from the end of a vacation that you won’t be tempted to work while away.


2. Create an Environment for Success While You’re Out

Too many employees think it validates their existence to make themselves irreplaceable. That logic leads to two negative consequences. First, the company will discourage you from taking time off, because too many things depend solely on you. Then, you will eventually burn out. Second, if you take time away and things consistently fall apart in your absence, the organization may decide to replace you with someone who leaves them in better shape.


3. Focus on Your Batteries

Decide what recharges your batteries (spiritually, physically, and emotionally) and focus on those things. I know someone who spends a lot of time reading on the beach. While boring to some, it’s close to heaven for her. I like to be around my extended family. It’s not work for me, as it might be for others. Be wary of taking vacations to accomplish things that seem like work because they are draining to you. My friend’s term for that is “mandatory fun.” And it’s usually not.


4. Detach!

I generally don’t check my email while I’m away from the office, and I never call in to check messages. If something is that important, my employer can easily get in touch with me. Some people need to go completely “off the grid” and leave their electronics behind because of the work-related temptation. Know yourself, know your temptations, and plan accordingly.

If you really need some email management help while on vacation, Michael Hyatt has a useful blog to help you.


5. Plan Your Reentry

I’m a guy who likes to squeeze every last drop out of his vacation, so I want the first flight out and the last flight back. My wife likes a more casual reentry, and I have friends that come back a full day before they have any plans just to ease back into their routine. Again, know yourself, and plan accordingly. Don’t undo the benefits of your vacation by having a bad reentry.  


It’s always a little nerve-wracking to see how well UBA does while our team members are away, but it’s also reassuring to work on a team that is as reliable as this one. They’ve got my back when I go to Colorado in the summer to escape the Houston heat, and I’ve got their back when they do what recharges them. If UBA can assist you in offering suggestions on time-away policies, please call the office and ask for anyone but Dian, because she’s out.

Josh Ellis is Executive Director of Union Baptist Association. He has a PhD in Leadership Studies and has served on the UBA staff since 2005. With both practical and scholarly knowledge, he leads the association into innovative collaboration for the sake of strategic gospel advancement.