Missed vacations: Whose fault is it?

Does your company's vacation policy force you to use it or lose it? Do job responsibilities make it difficult for you to take time off? Join this Member Debate on the difficulty IT pros have finding the time for fun.

Getting IT professionals to take vacations seems to be a problem for many IT managers, particularly in small IT departments where one person handles a designated job—or in even smaller IT departments where one person does it all.

TechRepublic members who set vacation policies for their IT shops got into a lively discussion recently in IT Manager Republic when they responded to the article “How do you manage IT vacations?”

Should you force vacations on people who are already overworked? Aren’t they the people who most need a vacation? What are the risks of cross-training people to cover during vacations? And what is more important: the project schedule or the vacation schedule?

Managing vacation time seems a particularly potent question for help desk and support professionals, who tell us constantly that they are supporting huge numbers of end users with small numbers of support staff.

Is there any help for the people who spend all year long helping other people?

Some managerial solutions
In the discussion about managing vacations, a few management philosophies seemed to come through.

Among them were:
  • Requiring employees to take the vacation owed them, either by prohibiting carryover of unused vacation time to the next year or by monitoring vacation time taken by employees.
  • Emphasizing cross-training and management training, in order to allow for leave by otherwise indispensable employees.
  • Compiling a “survival guide” to help the organization accommodate vacation scheduling.
  • Requiring vacation dates to be set in January so that project schedules can be designed around the leave schedule.
  • Instituting four-day weekends on a rotating and regular basis.
  • Including management of vacations in the objectives by which managers are evaluated, sometimes with bonus money on the line.

Forced vacation time
Several managers had variations of the forced vacation philosophy, usually defining the requirements through set periods of time.

One manager suggested forcing everyone to take some vacation within a six-month period, and several said that vacations are necessary to keep IT staff from burning out. They noted that there seems to be a huge increase in productivity after workers return from leave.

But forced vacation time drew the ire of a number of discussion participants.

Opponents of forced vacations argued that paid leave is part of compensation. Instead of being punished for being good corporate citizens who feel more obligated to complete their work tasks than take vacation breaks, they argue that they should be paid for the vacations they can’t take.

While several people said they would quit a job where vacation was required, others questioned if managers were actually seeing increased productivity from returning vacationers—or people busting their tails to catch up with work that has been neglected while they were away.

Training a substitute
Another consistent theme through the discussion was that cross-training and documenting the job makes it easier to get away for vacations, while also helping to fill the void when someone leaves a position for good.

One manager said that high-stress vacations come about when people worry about who will take care of their responsibilities while they are gone. Cross-training is handy when a position is opened through promotion or other reasons.

It may sound counterintuitive, but unless you train someone else to do your job, it is unlikely that you will be considered for promotion because you are the only one who knows what to do, one manager wrote.

If you are indispensable, another manager noted, you can’t get promoted, you can’t take vacations, and you have to spend sick days on the phone calling into the office.

Managers are not exempt from needing vacations. A vacation by a manager may also benefit their subordinates.

Before his manager took a three-week vacation, this future manager shadowed his boss around for weeks and assumed all of her responsibilities while she was gone.

Documentation turns into a vacation ticket
Trying to get some vacation time is more difficult when you are the only member of an organization’s IT shop.

As one person described his job, he is the “it” in IT.

A way to get around the problem of cross-training a replacement, besides calling in a consultant to actually take over the position during the vacation period, is to produce a “survival guide” for those you leave behind.

Some problems can be handled if the documentation you provide is simple and thorough.

One systems administrator for a water district explained how he was able to take a two-week vacation without receiving a single phone call. While he was gone, the organization experienced a print server crash, but his coworkers restored the server by using his survival guide.

Join the debate!
Now it is time to put your opinion into the mix. Do you agree with any of the points raised above? Do you have a better idea about how to make vacation a reality? Tell us what you think in the discussion below or send us an e-mail.


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