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Importance of Vacations


July 2, 2015 by Mike Hillwig

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to take a vacation–an entire week out of the office with my work phone turned off and tucked away in my desk drawer at work. I intentionally locked out my network account and went dark. I needed a break. And that’s exactly what I got. After a few days in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for SQL Saturday, I was off to Berlin for some much needed rest. It also gave me the opportunity to do something I love to do, and that’s flying. I used some miles to upgrade to Delta ONE from Atlanta to Amsterdam, which allowed me to sit on the upper deck of a 747. All the while, my boss would be the escalation point for my team.

My company has a couple of policies around vacations, and they’re interesting. First, all employees are required to take five consecutive business days out of the office and aren’t permitted to conduct company business. Some key employees are required to take ten consecutive business days. While this sounds like a very employee-friendly policy, and it is,  it has a very interesting secondary rationale. Keep in mind that our parent company is one of the world’s largest financial institutions. We have people who have access to highly sensitive financial systems. We use employee vacations as a fraud protection measure. The idea is that if someone is out of the office and they’ve been doing something dishonest, it’ll be easier detect them while they’re not in the office. And if you’re doing something dishonest, it’s much harder to cover your tracks while out of the office. It makes some sense.

I have another reason why I think vacations are important. It helps us learn what we don’t know. When a member of my team is on vacation, I inevitably find process gaps or opportunities for automation. While I’m on vacation, my team will be going to my boss will get to deal with all of the stuff I typically keep off his plate. He’ll also be fielding approvals and escalations from my team. This means that when I come back from a vacation I expect the conversation to include a few “Why are we doing….?” and “I didn’t realize you were doing….” discussions. If I’m doing something he doesn’t like, I’m going to hear about it. At the same time, he’s going to see a lot of the value of what I add to the organization.