A few weeks ago, a tornado touched down near where I live and work in Raleigh, doing major damage. Nothing near the level of damage in Alabama or Missouri, but it was a scary and sad experience nonetheless. Around that same time, some kind of virus got loose on one of the computers in our office and made its way into our server. Combined with damage from the storms, it was a complete man-down situation for our I/T department! Our Director of I/T was nowhere to be found during this crisis. Why? Because he was on vacation.
I thought for sure he would come back from wherever he was to deal with the issue. He didn’t. He had 2 weeks remaining of the 4 use-it-or-lose-it vacation time he gets each year. He wasn’t going to lose the time or change his plans. I couldn’t believe a senior-level executive could or would take that approach to a crisis in this day and age. But he did – without hesitation or apology. And no one really challenged him on
it. Sure, everyone talked badly about him behind his back but no one demanded
he come back or counseled him for not returning … Um. Ok. I guess it wasn’t as
big a deal as I thought.
Annual Enrollment for our 401(k) and we are adding a new supplemental benefit to our plan is coming up. We just changed sponsors on our retirement plan so it is going to be more hectic than years past. The Payroll Coordinator responsible for setting up the deductions and making sure the retirement plan monies are transferred to the correct funds is taking 8 days of vacation smack-dab in the middle of it. When his supervisor hinted that he should change his vacation to be available if problems come up, he scoffed and said “I’m not changing my plans for this. Let my back-up handle it” … Um. Okay. If that’s how you really feel.
Our company doesn’t close on Memorial Day. It is a big travel-by-car holiday so, as an automotive retailer, we choose to stay open. If we wish to take Memorial Day off, we have to use a vacation day. I got a request from one of our salaried Regional staffers who had taken the day off and asked for it to be unpaid. He had plenty of vacation time available. I checked with him to be sure and he said “I don’t want to
waste it now. I might need it later.” Yet every year, he is taking off random,
consecutive days just before his anniversary date because he always has time to
burn … But ok. If that’s how you want it.
All this got me thinking about this article I’ve seen floating around on Facebook and Twitter. It says Americans waste $67 billion in vacation days each year. Most people get 3 – 4 weeks of time, but only use 2 of those weeks, putting America even further
behind other industrialized nations and the benefits offered to their employees. The reasons for the wasted time varied from not being able to afford a true vacation to feeling pressure by the boss not to take time off to not feeling comfortable taking the time because of workload.
And for the 3rd week in a row, I am hovering on something: Has the work/life balance gotten so out of whack that we are creating vacation hoarders?? Or are vacation hoarders just wack?
Admittedly, I don’t understand how people fail to use their vacation time. There has never been a year when I don’t use every minute of the 4 weeks I accrue – and a few extra days of leaving early when I can get it, too. I don’t need to have anywhere special to go. I once took a 5 day vacation to my couch where I watched soap operas and judge shows and talk shows and completely vegged out for the week! It was wonderful. Our minds and bodies need rest in order to continue to perform at their best, no matter what our job is. The occasional 3- or 4-day weekend is great and so are holidays. But I think people are at their best when they get a good 5-10 consecutive business days off once or twice in a year. Now I understand that this isn’t possible for everyone. If you are a person who doesn’t earn paid time off at your job, this post isn’t for you … However, I will say this: if you don’t have that benefit, I would seriously encourage you to seek employment at a place that offers you that option. It speaks volumes when an employer doesn’t believe it is worthwhile to reward long-term employees with paid time off. It is every bit as important as medical and retirement benefits … But if you are hoarding your vacation for some reason, I encourage you to ask yourself: why?
If you are like my Regional staffer who doesn’t want to use his time because he might need it later even though you never run out of time, you are a vacation hoarder and you are wack! He told me that he thinks it sets a positive example and the rest of the people in his office admire him for taking time unpaid. No one admires him for saving vacation time or taking unpaid days when he has time available. In fact, people think he is really stupid for doing that because the rest of them are either at work or using vacation time on that day. He’s not defending a political principle or taking the time unpaid to show solidarity with other employees; he’s just hoarding his time!
If you are like my Payroll Coordinator who is unwilling to adjust his plans to be in the office during an important transition that is a key part of his job duties, you are a vacation hoarder and you are wack! This guy had already announced he wasn’t going anywhere important; he was doing a few local things with family and some clean-up around his house. His unwillingness to adjust his time to be available during this
transition demonstrates a lack of pride in his work and no desire to be a part of the team. It’s arguably insubordinate. He is using his vacation time as a weapon and a shield. If he’d had travel plans, I would understand. But when all he plans to do is some other honey-do items, it doesn’t seem like a sacrifice to adjust the plan slightly to make sure the transition goes smoothly for our 2,000 employees.
If you are like my I/T Director who didn’t return early from vacation when the system unraveled … I don’t know what you are. On the one hand, he is wack because it was a really serious issue and he made ZERO attempt to help resolve it. Not even remotely. He made himself completely unavailable. Our techs were able to rig things so we could limp along until he got back. However, they probably could have fixed most of the problem with a few instructions if he’d just called-in. Instead, he sent an
email saying he was unreachable and would deal with it when he returned. How
does one send an email when you are unreachable?? Clearly, you had internet
And he’s wack because he waited until the last minute to use his time. He’s another one that does it every year – and ends up taking almost a whole month off because he has so much time to burn. As a senior-level person, it is irresponsible to me, especially when no one else is trained to pick up the slack while you are out.
At the same time, I know our I/T Director works very hard. He deserved time away to clear his mind from the day-to-day of the job and all it entails. If the company didn’t keep him so busy, perhaps he wouldn’t need to be a vacation hoarder and he could spread the time out instead. At the senior levels of organizations, it is becoming
increasingly difficult for people to disconnect from work. We have devices and
technology that keep us tethered to work no matter where we are. We end up
checking email and voicemail after hours, on weekends and on vacation. That isn’t
right, proper or fair, either. And when a person doesn’t conform by refusing to
carry a blackberry or work remotely, they are judged and labeled and sometimes
disciplined. That isn’t necessarily the message an employer wants to send about
its expectations or culture either … is it?
One thing I am sure of, our vacation policy needs an overhaul. The pressure of use-it-or-lose-it time off is becoming more of a curse than a blessing. We need a policy that better aligns with our goals and expectations. So I’m going to create a proposal to change it!
I welcome your stories on vacation hoarders and successful vacation policies.