Going on leave doesn’t mean what it used to for connected CFOs


By Samantha White and Neil Amato

Time away from the office provides an opportunity for rest and relaxation, which are crucial to wellbeing, creativity, and productivity. But many professionals are reluctant to take their full allocation of paid time off, and, in the US, those who take time off are increasingly in contact with colleagues while away.

A survey into UK workers’ attitudes to absence found that 33% had not taken all the time off they were entitled to because their workload was too heavy. The YouGov survey, commissioned by information services provider Wolters Kluwer, revealed that 4% were worried about what their employer would think if they took the time off.

In a Robert Half survey of 2,200 US CFOs, 35% said they would be in contact with the office at least once a day while they were away. Just 32% of respondents said they would be taking the opportunity to completely switch off from work. In the 2012 version of the survey, that figure stood at 51%.

Anoop Mehta, CPA, CGMA, is one executive who finds it difficult to unplug while away. Mehta, previously CFO and now president of Science Systems and Applications Inc., said spending small amounts of time on items such as email helps him get up to speed much faster upon his return to work. Also, giving quick responses to some email questions can keep a process going, instead of requiring a staffer to wait one or two weeks for him to return.

“You can be sitting in a chair next to the pool, enjoying your trip, enjoying your family” and answering email on a mobile device, he said. “It makes me a lot more at ease. It’s better than worrying and thinking, ‘What am I missing?’ ”

Mehta said he wants the staff to enjoy time off and to stay “a little disconnected,” but he said there is an expectation for workers to engage for a short period of time if there is an emergency. That’s easier than it was in the past, thanks to mobile devices.

Still, he said, it’s ideal to set limits on the amount of holiday time that is devoted to work. “There is a boundary you try to maintain,” he said.

Valerie Rainey, CPA, CGMA, the CFO at global e-commerce provider INTTRA, tries to schedule time off outside of the company’s busiest periods. When on leave, she checks email once a day, responding as needed. “That works for me, and everyone has to find their balance,” she said.

To get the full benefit of a relaxing break, CFOs should take the following steps, according to the authors of the Robert Half survey report:

  • Before you go, let colleagues know when you plan to be in touch. 
  • Nominate your deputy or potential successor as the key point of contact and allow that person to handle enquiries and requests in your absence.
  • Trust your team to handle as much as it can.
  • Plan your return: Don’t go straight into the office after a long-haul flight, and block out time on the first day back to catch up.

Stefany Williams, CPA, CGMA, the CEO of Goodwill of Western Missouri & Eastern Kansas, recommended disconnecting during time off. One strategy she has employed to stay unplugged is disabling email notifications on mobile devices. If you don’t hear the “ding” or feel the vibration, you’re less likely to check on what’s happening back at the office.

Not taking the opportunity to rest and recharge may prove counterproductive and lead to absence through sickness later.

“Organisations need to focus on interventions and management of short-term absence and holidays to ensure that employees have a healthy work/life balance,” Mike Allen, managing director of Croner, the UK HR solutions division of Wolters Kluwer, said in a news release. “Bosses should ensure that employees feel able to take annual leave without the fear of what they may return to.”

Samantha White (swhite@aicpa.org) and Neil Amato (namato@aicpa.org) are CGMA Magazine senior editors.

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