BLUF: What can I do as an individual contributor to prepare my management / division for when I'm out on vacation?

As an individual contributor with specific technical responsibilities providing support to both customers and international colleagues, I haven't been able to use much more than a day of my vacation at a time.  I now find myself with 3+ weeks of vacation that needs to be used by the end of the year, and I'd love to be able to use it in segments of a week or so to spend time with family without being tied to the computer/cell phone.  The problem is, if I'm out of the office for more than a day my personal cell phone starts ringing off the hook and I end up working weekends to get caught up on 'rush' issues.

I have discussed resource needs with my manager, and he agrees that we need more than just me in my role - but with the current economic climate he cannot justify another hire at this time.

I sent an email to my manager (often out of the office) requesting guidance on how to cover my role when I'm out - the response I received was "any suggestions you have for backup are appreciated"

The current options I see are:

1. Only take vacation in 1 day or half-day segments (my wife certainly does not appreciate this option) 

2. Work to convince colleagues in other roles to take on the training required to back me up in my role (40+ hours of required corporate class + 2 day training & 2 hour written exam for access to the systems integral to my job)

3. Convince someone in my role from another division to cover my role and train them on my specific product lines and customers (difficult as divisions are very siloed)

4. Schedule vacation, make the boss aware of it, and ignore everything until I return to the office.

I am very leery of letting things fall on my manager, as a promotion has been "in process" for the last 6 months (I now see this as the dangle it is).

Any tools or suggestions on how to approach this situation would be greatly appreciated!







royd's picture

If the organisation is not able to cope without you going on a planned absence how will it cope if (fingers crossed it never happens) you become ill for 2 weeks  with no notice , or if you get so fed up in the role that you get another job ( nb the interview series is excellent)

Also if you are considered to be indispensible in your current role how will you get promoted to a new expanded role if no one is available to replace you; very difficult to get promoted with no succesion planning.

If the role is important to the bottom line and everyone is relying on one person to be always available then that seems to me to be an unacceptable risk to ignore for the business and therefore for your manager.

In summary I think it is a joint responsibilty with you and your manager to reduce the risk to the organisation of you not being available to do your currrent role - not just a vacation issue - but a one week vacation is a good way to see if the planned steps to address this have actually worked.

Good luck


cubedweller's picture

Thank you for your response, Roy.  I agree, this is a much larger issue than enjoying my vacation.

And it has come into play when other opportunities have come up - without a plan for replacement, it's not even a consideration.

I believe it should be a joint responsibility for my manager and me, but until it becomes a priority for my manger - I'm left to go it alone.  Is it my responsibility to make it a priority for my manager?  I don't believe that forcing the issue by doing nothing and going on vacation (option #4 above) is a productive or acceptable route.

With regular O3's I believe I could make this a priority, but I currently have 30 minute meetings every couple of months with my manager (unless something else comes up on his calendar).

I'm starting to believe this is just the new way for corporate America.

I always thought the label that "Generation Y" has received for impatience and willingness to leave an organization was ridiculous and would never apply to me.  I'm starting to see this label as a product of how employees are treated by corporations, certainly not an inherent generational trait. 

Hopefully I have a chance to discuss the issue with my manager before my vacation in a few weeks.

I appreciate your comments,


flexiblefine's picture

I know where you're coming from -- I am a one-man team at my job, and I worried about all the possible things that could come up when I took a two and a half week vacation last summer.

I agree with Roy that there ought to be some sort of contingency plan to cover for you if you're out. I always ask "What happens if Person X gets hit by a truck?" If you're doing things that Must Be Done, someone else will have to do them. Now is a good time to cross-train someone (or more than one) to cover for you when you're gone. Can people without the training and exam do anything to help?

Who else reports to your manager? Should you be trying to convince colleagues on your own, or should this be a team coverage issue? How much trouble would there really be if you were gone for a week and the work simply wasn't done? (Aside from dealing with the backlog when you return, of course...)

Who else can you enlist to help make this a priority for your manager? Perhaps some of the people you support can get in touch with him to illustrate the need for someone to cover when you're on vacation or otherwise out of the office. Make sure you let them know you're going on vacation and will be out of touch -- that might help get them to make coverage a priority.

I agree that simply going away for a week with no advance planning isn't the best way to handle the situation, but neither is preventing you from taking vacation time that you have earned. It sounds like you have the vacation planned -- you've put in your time-off request and done everything else you need to officially let your manager know you'll be gone? It's in your manager's lap now.

I'm sorry you're in this situation. My boss is very supportive about "don't bother with work while you're on vacation," and he's right across the hall from me. You have an absentee who just isn't thinking about making sure your position is covered.

I also recommend the Interviewing Series and keeping your wife happy. :)

Houston, Texas, USA
DiSC: 1476

royd's picture

short version - create a plan, tell the boss/ask for any updates first then run the plan. Also you must do your career planning.

create a plan to achieve the goal of reducing the risk to the maintenance of the support role by a set time - e.g. end of the year. (the assumptive goal setting cast is very good to help you think). you could plan in your vacation as times to 'test' this , see what worked and what needs to be improved, then test that with the next vacation so your vacations are actually part of the validation of the goal.

essential to keep your boss informed - share your plan especially because it will include talking to your customers (no surprises to the boss, great to get support or just cya ) - could be quite high level plan that will get filled out with more specifics later as you execute it, you can always plan for updates to it at set times if you want - don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good

look at what deliverables you create, what response time is required, what lead time for the request is possible from your customers, can you offer different levels of service for different severity of call for e.g. - basically brainstorm the whole process to get some ideas of what can be different from now, great if you could do this with your customers - you already know which of them would be best for this.

separately look to your career planning - always difficult if you feel under day to day pressure but you MUST do this - many casts on mid year goal review etc,  review your skills and the market demand for them for eg. You will feel more energy if you have a plan for your own career and are taking steps to take control of it.

lastly see if you can have a separate phone from your personal mobile for support calls


jl_herrera's picture

Excellent suggestions in this thread.  I currently work for a boss who has no interest in backfilling my role for events like this (leave, sick time, etc).  I am about to go on leave for two weeks (approved since July) and just today he told me that my time off is contingent on me doing my work.  This in reference to a tight deadline (which we just learned about today) due while I am on leave.

I am leaning towards Cubedweller's #4 above, but am afraid it will be worse in the end.  Looks like I'll have to work during my leave overseas.