I’m taking three weeks of vacation all at once.
And I’m staying at home during the break. This isn’t to say that I won’t be leaving the house. That’d be crazy. It’s a stay-cation, not solitary confinement.
The plan is for me to simply live my life — running, biking, reading and visiting the library, seeing friends, helping my wife with her commute in the morning, cooking, doing on chores and projects around the house, pursuing hobbies — that sort of thing.
This is all part of my Filling in the Gaps initiative. I’m doing the best I can to trial-run not working while retaining employment. Some people might think, hey yeah, I can fill up three weeks too, but what about three years? Or thirty? It’s not the same thing, doofus.
While that’s all true, this is the best I can manage. I’ll be posting a series of updates to share how it’s going.
In the meantime, I thought it’d be worthwhile to document yet another craptastic aspect of work: the lead-in to vacation time.
Trying to get more than a week off at a time at work usually results in management balking. It’s not that they say no, exactly. If you have the days in the bank, and you’re providing sufficient notice, they’re required by HR to give you the time, and they know it. Still, they will squirm and waffle. Three weeks? What do you need three weeks for?
I lie my way through most procedural activities that don’t directly relate to my engineering function, and saw no need to make an exception here. I do this because telling the truth is a sure way to make your life more difficult. It results in questions, misunderstanding, and pain — always pain.
So I had one ready, like a pre-cooked meal. My mom is getting older and needs a lot of help around the house. We’re having some contractors over to fix a few things and if I’m not there they’ll take advantage of her. And she may be selling the property soon so I’m going to be cleaning and painting every room as well.
See, I’m not taking the time off for me. I’m taking it off to help dear-old-mom. How can anyone refuse that? He couldn’t.
Still, it took him two weeks to supply the final approval after my request. This was back in January, when I initially asked for the time off. The reason given for the delay? He needed time to think about it, despite three months of advance warning.
I didn’t doubt that he’d end up green-lighting me. Because of my approach, there was no other option. He stalled because it’s his way of letting me know that ultimately I’m a slave and he owns me, a reminder of who’s the boss.
You are, my brother, my captain, my King.
Knowledge Transfer Expectations
Fact: Your manager will ask you if you could please make an exact copy of the data stored in your brain and transfer it to a co-worker so that they can perform the entirety of your job in your absence.
Fact: This request is completely absurd. Companies hire folks for a reason, and that reason is usually their expertise plus the volume of work that needs to be processed. You may be a cog in the machine, but you’re a cog placed precisely between multiple other cogs, and only you know the specifics of the touchpoints, your required speed of rotation, and the exact size of the rod in you.
Fact: Even though I know they’re going to struggle, I still respond that I’m confident that coworker A and B can handle my open issues and can take care of whatever when I’m out.
Instead of an outright falsehood, let’s call this response merely a display of optimism and faith in my colleagues.
Go, Team, Go!
I told Mr. Boss that I’m not going to be checking my email while I’m away. His reaction: complete disappointment. He even mentioned that many of my co-workers check in periodically when they’re on vacation. I politely replied that if he needed me, I would be available via cell.
Then I added that if I get called, I expect compensation time.
He visibly jerked backward when I said this, as though I was brandishing a knife in his face. I might just need an answer to a simple question, he said after a pause. Would it be OK for me to call, then?
Yes, of course, I told him. Part of my role is to provide support for issues that impact the business, regardless of what’s going on in my personal life. I understand and accept this responsibility. But these are vacation days. I expect comp time if I get a call. If I’m painting walls and suddenly have to drop everything to take a call or log in, it’s a big inconvenience for me. So I’m asking for a full comp day for any call I get.
After a big sigh, he agreed, and then reminded me to bring my laptop wherever I go. Just in case.
Isn’t setting expectations fun?
Enjoy Your Time Off
Is what he didn’t say. Instead he reviewed our list of open projects before launching into a speech about new initiatives that he expects me to own and lead when I get back.
He isn’t the first manager in my life to do this. Not by a long shot. Supervisors don’t want you to leave because they feel a loss of control. The way that they re-establish control is to put themselves back in the driver’s seat. Reminding you that you are an owned resource that will be slaving away the day you get back does the trick nicely.
It’s day 1 of my vacation and already I feel the familiar dread that accompanies any time off from work. That dread is born from the knowledge that before I know it, the vacation will be over and I’ll be back in the office.
There’s only one difference. This time I consider that dread to be a good sign. It means I’m mentally ready to hand in my notice. Since that’s what I’m going to do in a year, that frown has just been turned upside-down.
So Dread, welcome to the family. Come in, take your shoes off, make yourself comfortable, stay a while.
Three full weeks would be just fine.
>> Part 1