How much vacation do you need?

So it’s the holidays and I just had a somewhat heated discussion with my gf about vacation so it got me thinking. How much vacation is actually enough? How important is vacation time to you? Often employers use vacation time as a benefit and tell the employees that they get x amount of vacation time an because you get more vacation from company A it is better than company B but is it really?

When did time off from work become a benefit? Do we really live in a society where you sell your soul to a company and then they have to let you off and allow you to do things? I don’t think so. Look it is not about being lazy. It is about selling your time to the highest bidder and I don’t mean in monetary measurement. You are at the end of the day selling your ability to do something … anything for someone else. You are the seller and you are not the buyer and I don’t know how somehow along the way it all got switched around. You see one thing that people seem to forget is that it is the employer who competes for talent and workers and not the employee who competes for whatever. Your employer would love you to believe the latter but this is not the truth at all. And it is not just that, you have to put yourself in a position where you are selling something valuable so that you can get the best price for your time and abilities. Once you do that, you shouldn’t forget that it is not just when you find a job that you are selling things. Every time you get a performance review, you should look at it as an opportunity to sell yourself. Don’t settle. Anyway, I digress.

So back to the vacation question. How much time off from work do you need? 2 days a week (every week)? 3 days a week with the ability to combine them? See here is the problem for me. You get into the routine of thinking that you work 5 days and you are off for 2 and then you start living for the weekend. But that’s wrong. You are limiting your potential because of a stupidly designed schedule. It all get’s back to an unimaginative managers and scheduling that is not based around creativity and kills creativity. Do you really think that you can predict your company’s progress by making sure that you have people working for 8 hours at a time? Fair enough, some jobs take no creativity and you have to turn your brain mostly off to do them. Those, jobs usually require that there is a semi-automaton there for a set period of time. Those particular jobs would one day be done by robots but as it is, are done by people. There you can schedule and manage people like we do. However, creative jobs should not be a 9 to 5. You should feel at work 24 hours 7 days a week, and yet not feel at work for the same amount of time. You could work one day for 12 hours and the next for 2 because the project is not going anywhere. But you need a flexible schedule. Actually, if you give people enough freedom so they can take care of their personal life and be creative, you would be surprised that they actually would work more than before and be a lot more productive per hour of work than before. It does take a complete retraining of your brain and I suppose a does of ADD. Quite frankly I think every creative person must have ADHD to some extent. You have to be a bit chaotic and not be able to follow rules in order to be able to create something. You have to be challenged by the current system in order to be driven to innovate. There is no other valid explanation for me.

And as far as amount of vacation time goes, who cares how much time off you take if you feel like every project that you work on if your own? It won’t matter that you are not at the office for 30 or 40 days a year. After all you don’t need a preset physical location to work. I personally think that every creative profession should be treated as a free lance job only you do get benefits and you are a part of a team and a company. But hey I am no fool. I know very well most managers are terrified by the unknown and the unpredictable and most of them believe that there is no chaos theory. I know that no medium to large company would ever allow their teams to be free spirits. Google get’s somewhat close to it on paper (Fridays are for your pet projects) but in reality it is not like that. So we maneuver the system as much as we can an keep fighting for days off and as much benefits as we can.

Oh well, Happy Holidays to us all !

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  1. #1 by thesowhat on December 25, 2010 - 11:50 am

    Hi George, just found this post under the Management section. I would say how to best handle vacation really depends – it is about the employee’s needs and wishes, however it is also about the company’s needs. I would make a distinction between taking vacation and working part time though; the ability of a company to absorb one vs. the other depends a lot on the industry.

    As an employee, I had a couple frustrating summers when I was not able to take vacation due to professional commitments. As a manager, I have experienced the pain of a project’s progress slowing down to zero as some key people reporting elsewhere in the organization are suddenly gone for a couple weeks without any warning. For part-time work, if enough people are on some type of regular or irregular part-time schedule, you quickly end up in real scheduling mess where you can never get the right group of people together in a meeting because someone is always gone. And of course for a lot of activities people have to be on site; it does not do much good if e.g. all the Spanish air traffic control personnel decided to call in sick the same day – as they did a couple weeks back.

    I would say you should think through what is your preferred scenario, take a few minutes to think through how this looks from your company’s side and what it is they need from you, and then have a chat with your manager about it. If you go in with an open agenda and willingness to compromise, you might be surprised to find that the solution space may be bigger than you originally thought.

    • #2 by grouver on January 4, 2011 - 12:47 pm

      Ok, first of all maybe the original post was a bit too *passionate* but I still think that the question of vacation time and work scheduling is very important for every manager. I don’t claim to have the answer for every industry and yes I have worked in several that are quite different and know first hand that working with factory workers has it’s own set of challenges and is not at all the same as working with highly educated creative people. So yes, you are absolutely right that each industry is different.
      However, for a manager it is particularly challenging managing creative types. Creativity management is a particularly hard task and I really hope that managers don’t use the trial and error approach for it. It might cost you the future of the team or ever the company! Anyway, when you deal with creativity your job is manager is never to control or micro manage. It is to inspire and motivate your team. Yes you do set the direction and yes you do guide people but you have to the more or less a charismatic leader and you need to both respect your team and be respected by them. You might not agree with this and if don’t I have a pretty good guess why. From a managers perspective uncertainty and reliance on others is a very scary though. You are the one that is responsible for projects’ completion and you are the one that takes it if a project falls behind schedule. However, what you must understand is that you are working with people and unlike machines they are not really replaceable and you almost never have a spare one. So yeah you should make plans and schedule tasks but you should ALWAYS have a contingency plan because things will never work out. But I think I touched up on that in another post.
      Anyway, back to the vacation. Is vacation important? Yes I would think so. Keep in mind that we are talking about well educated creative types. There are a few theories on what drives people at the work place and they all agree that while it starts with money it does not end with it. So don’t argue with the facts. If you really don’t believe me experiment a little with your employees or better yet read some books (cost you nothing).

      Fair enough free lancing might not work and 7 day work week with flexible times probably won’t either. But those were just examples used as illustrations of an idea … and a bit of brainstorming. You need to change the routine if you want talent and you need to do it today. And actually vacation is not a magic pill. To be honest no incentive would work every time. You will have to be a receptive manager and listen and I mean really listen to what your team is trying to tell you. You need to to almost be able to know what they want before they do if you are to be a great leader. But more on that later

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