Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Why I Fear Off Time


Look at that! Americans are second only to the Dutch in not taking time off! And second only to the French in annoying the natives when we do take time off, though that is on a second chart (not pictured).

I'm not sure why that is for the rest of the 31%, so I won't presume to speak for everyone. What I know is this: When I get a job offer I actually giggle when vacation time is mentioned because I know they could offer 52 weeks of the stuff and still never put resources in place for a person to take a longer-than-average lunch.

I've heard people discussing vacations and there are phrases that come up with regularity, but I think my definitions are different.

"Have a good time! Work will always be here when you get back so don't worry about it!"

I wonder what the "normals" interpret this to mean. Could it be assurance of job security and source of income? Sincere well-wishes and the implied promise that one's responsibilities will be met during a time of absence?

To most of the people I know in I.T., "Work will always be here when you get back" means that time off will be followed by an hour-for-hour frenzy where everything must be done at least twice because it wasn't done once while they were away from their desks.

This, in turn, could be interpreted as an indication of necessity -- Another assurance to the I.T. staff that they are needed. The work doesn't do itself. "This place falls apart without me."

And it may. Hell, it probably does. But that return-to-the-office frenzy generally covers it all back up, quietly returning the I.T. machine to its regular state of unobtrusiveness. Management becomes complacent. "If no one missed the I.T. guy while he was out, why do we pay him all of 7% less than market rate?"

In addition to the "normal" stresses an I.T. person feels pretty constantly there is the added stress of the certainty that in every second of the day, waking and sleeping, there is someone overseas willing to do his or her job if not as well, at least cheaper. And when an I.T. worker is examined based on finances only, outsourcing starts to look like a viable option.

"Work will always be here when you get back" -- To a person in I.T., that phrase comes with no reassurance that they will not be replaced by someone cheaper or (someday) some kind of robot or (as is possible for a number of people I have worked with in the past) a few lines of code and a trained pigeon pecking an "Enter" key coated in honey and sunflower seeds. In fact, the pigeon would be a good deal tidier than most of the I.T. people I know.

This is further complicated by an I.T. management structure based on anything other than technical ability -- And I have never seen a management hierarchy based on technical ability -- where time-off is granted by people unable to cover for the person who is out of the office.

If the manager even knows what the I.T. guy does day-to-day those duties are never smoothly transitioned temporarily to someone else on the team. They are either done poorly or not at all and they pile up quickly and cast a looming shadow over a vacation.  

"Work will always be here when you get back but your job may not be" is generally the unspoken farewell at the end of every workday for the I.T. set. Limiting the incidence of that thought is why so few of us take vacations anymore.

The whole process results in irritability and probably increased workplace violence, though my attempts to get grants toward researching this formally have (to date) been blocked in committee.

Aw, crap. Now my Tuesday post is all depressing due to rant-related issues and it wasn't supposed to be.

The point is this: I took yesterday off and had a good time. I'm catching up today, but I'm taking my time about it.

What the I.T. person needs to keep in mind in order to stay sane is that while they may be replaceable, so is every employer on the planet. And in most cases it is far easier for the employee to replace the employer if the employee decides that the employer is no longer pulling its weight.

And lets watch that attitude. 

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