Is Taking a Vacation More Trouble Than It’s Worth?

A cross-trained workforce means exhausted employees can easily take vacation time, while ensuring business continuity for customers.

For the last 10 years I have been lucky enough to have both a full-time job and freelancing writing opportunities, like the writing I am doing at the moment for Training. In addition to Training, I write as a freelancer for a travel industry publication. My assignments for that magazine have sent me all over the world, from Central America to Europe to Asia and Africa. I cherish these assignments. The one downside: I have to take vacation time from my full-time job.

It’s not that I mind taking a break from my full-time job—who minds doing that? It’s the preparation for my absence that’s the challenge. It’s such a challenge that I usually don’t take time off unless it’s to travel or for another significant reason. So much work goes into a week away from my full-time job that I almost never take time off when that time will be spent at home.

I started researching whether anyone has looked into this problem of it being too hard to take vacation time, and found an article from Inc., “Here’s How to Get Your Hardworking Team to Actually Use Their Vacation Days.”

Some companies have an online form you have to fill out to take time off. Inc.’s Young Entrepreneur Council, which authored the article, advises making that form as simple as possible. Before considering the ease of filling out the form, consider how easy the form is to access. Is it housed online on a site, or part of a site, that employees rarely use otherwise? If that is the case, many employees probably have lost their username and password to the site, and may not even know the URL of the site, or where to find it on your intranet. So step #1 would be to put it someplace easy to find and allow employees to use an existing username and password, such as the same username and password they use to get into their computer or e-mail. If that poses a security risk, you could have them use the same log-in information, but with a security question.

Allowing for hourly paid time off is another way to make it easier for employees to use vacation days, the authors note. It was suggested to me that I use half-days. Sometimes bosses don’t realize how hard it is for an employee, whose job is composed entirely of deliverables, and who does not have anyone working under them, to take half a day off. Taking any time (even just several hours) off to sit on my couch, go to a movie, or a museum isn’t worth the stress.

For others in a similar boat, the authors of the Inc. article suggest planning projects around employee vacations. I have run “best-of” issues with all previously published articles to help with time off. It helps, but there is still day-to-day work that needs to get done during that time. The problem is there is only so much that can be planned in advance, even when provisions are made to optimize already-completed work. The old work has to be updated, and someone has to make sure it is rolled out again in the best way possible.

What it comes down to is making sure each employee either has another employee working alongside or under them who can seamlessly jump in and pick up the workload when their colleague is out of the office. Another option, if the employee, like me, comprises a work unit of one, is to cross-train another employee from another business unit. If the employee’s colleague is cross-trained well enough, they shouldn’t require much preparation to take over whenever needed.

I always laugh to myself and say, “Wow, they must think I’m super-human—that I’m immune to ever getting seriously sick or injured or unexpectedly needing a week or longer off from work!” I hope I never have life trauma or complications that require significant, unexpected time off, but that isn’t something I can guarantee won’t happen.

Having cross-trained employees isn’t altruism. It’s an important management best practice. Such backup means exhausted employees can easily take vacation time. It also means ensuring business continuity for your customers.

Does your organization make it easy for employees to take vacation time? What are a few ways you can make vacation time more manageable for your workforce?