Friday, October 09, 2015

Take a vacation, please

I was fortunate that most of my full-time career took place before the expectation that employees would be at least quasi-available 24/7/365 took hold.

I remember – mid 1980’s? – making a phone call from Logan to check in on something. But then I got on the plane with my husband for a California vacation. As for work, once I hung up it was buh-bye.

I also remember – late 1980’s, when I was working at Wang Labs  – getting off a plane at Shannon Airport and seeing all sorts of Wang ads. Wang at the time had quite a presence in Ireland, and I told Jim that I couldn’t really consider myself on vacation until we were out of sight of those damned signs.

As time, and career, marched on, email became more prevalent, and went from being an internal communication vehicle to something that let you communicate with the outside world.

Laptops replaced clunky “portable” computers that weighed a ton and were communal property, schlepped around when you had to do a product demo on the road or get some work done on weekends without having to come into the office. And then, all of a sudden, laptops were more the norm than desktops. A laptop – your personal computer or one from work – could be easily taken on vacation so you could stay in touch. But mostly I didn’t.

Then there was the Internet. If you didn’t want to drag your laptop with you, hey, you could check your email from an Internet Café. (Do they even exist anymore?)

By this point, everyone had a cell phone, and unless you were in the middle of the Gobi Desert or the top of Everest, you were reachable. And then the smartphone, the ultimate trap: always on…

I only got into one wrangle over taking a vacation. At Genuity, we had a major (and majorly expensive and, in truth, majorly idiotic) product launch coming up, and I was the launch captain. At a meeting shortly before my vacation, the CMO proclaimed that all vacations were canceled until after Black Rocket was shot into hyperspace. One of my colleagues immediately piped up, “Good idea. My family will go without me.” And I immediately said that I had no intention of canceling my plans – a trip to Christmas Cove, Maine with multiple moving friends and family parts. I said that the launch was in good hands, that if there was any problem – which I didn’t anticipate – my second in command knew where to get me.

The CMO gave me a look and said, “You know I’m postponing my honeymoon for this launch.”

This guy was no kid – my age, roughly – and was on his second or third marriage. And it was to someone he’d lived with for years.

I gave him a big old smile and said something along the lines of “and you’re not exactly 21, are you, pal?” We were buds. Sort of.

He laughed. Sort of.

I did end up calling into the main weekly meeting, but the connection was so terrible I had to drop out after a few minutes. And even those few minute were a waste. I was not needed in the least. But the expectation was that you had to show the flag. Just ridiculous.

But the fact is that, thanks to technology, the lines between work time and personal life are blurring.

Sometimes this is a good thing. You can go to your kid’s kindergarten play and put in a couple of hours after dinner. You can answer emails from the doctor’s office while you’re waiting.

And sometimes it’s a not so good thing in that your time is never fully your own.

So some companies are starting to mandate work-free weekends. Some offer unlimited time off – which, of course, no one really takes advantage of. And some are even requiring that employees take vacation.

At FullContact, a software company in Denver:

Each employee is granted a yearly $7,500 bonus to use for time off, with a mandate to stay completely out of touch while away. The extra pay is forfeited if that rule is broken. Co-workers pick up the slack for the vacationers and abide by detailed plans outlining who will fill holes during an absence. (Source: Bloomberg)

Ideas like this are mainly in play in the tech sector, where companies want to attract and retain workers.

Another idea is offering a sabbatical. Tom Corcoran lets employees take three paid months off after they’ve worked for his company – Corcoran Expositions – for ten years.

I never lasted anywhere for ten years. My longest time in was 9+ years at Softbridge. They dumped me with six months severance, so I guess I kind of got a sabbatical. Unfortunately, I had to spend it job-hunting.

I’ve been freelancing now for eleven years. I think I deserve a sabbatical. Too bad there’s no one to pay me for taking one…

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