All of us get some amount of vacation time, and many of us never use it, especially in America. There are a variety of reasons given for not taking it. Regardless of the reason, at the end of the year, it goes unused and both individuals and businesses suffer for it.
Today’s DailyWTF is a perfect reminder of why it’s important to schedule to vacation. When someone leaves the company, on their terms or otherwise, their coworkers and management are often very shocked at what they were doing on a daily basis to keep things running. It might be as simple as pushing a button once a day, or it could be hand-massaging data between two systems in a complex manner that isn’t a documented process. Businesses do like to say that everyone is replaceable, and technically they are, but the amount of pain the business suffers until that person is replaced can be extraordinarily high.
That’s why The Practice of System and Network Administration* suggests that everyone be forced to take at least one serious, one week (contiguous!) vacation per year (pg 810). This may include removing that person’s access to remote email and VPN, to ensure they’re really not doing anything in that time unless they’re called for assistance. This will illuminate what needs to be turned into a documented process and whether your coworker’s cross-training has been successful. When everyone on a team takes a vacation, all of the major gaps can be identified on a yearly basis.
Of course, this requires management support. When someone disappears for a week, the button isn’t pushed, and you start a causal time loop, management should support you and your team as you document the gap and prevent it in the future. If your coworkers need more cross-training, management can help you find the time to make it happen. If you’re a manager reading this, ensure that discovering a gap is seen as an improvement rather than punishment.
Keep these lessons in mind as we approach the end of the year. If you and your team haven’t scheduled vacation time through Jan 1, set up a meeting this week and have everyone lay out their plans. You don’t want to find out on Dec 15 that no-one will be around between Christmas and New Year’s. By discovering this early, your team can adjust plans so that everyone is happy with minimal impact on travel plans and family visits.
* The authors of The Practice recently released the second edition of The Practice of Cloud System Administration, which may be more appealing to the modern System Administrator, but I haven’t had time to read it yet.