Sam Edwards sat completely frozen in his office staring at his 6’2” senior developer from across his desk. The only sound in the room was the whirring of the distant air conditioner as it spewed cold air and contributed to the feeling of frozen statues. No one moved. Oxygen was feeling like a commodity. Who would blink first?

Only moments earlier Sam’s best senior developer on his number one client’s development project came in to his office to ask him for a vacation….

“A vacation? A….vacation? Mark is asking me for… a vacation,” was what was being repeated over and over in Sam’s brain while visions of their client’s development project crashing all around him kept appearing. “I can’t give Mark a vacation now….he’s our key developer. We’ll crash and burn. Our client will be furious. The project will go even more off track. Seriously Mark….a vacation? Do you not like me?” was the next set of thoughts that Sam’s brain delivered to him as his heart finally jump started from the initial shock. Only now, his heart was going into overdrive. And so was his limited thought process.

“I can’t give Mark a vacation. Not now. Not at this crucial time in the project.” The project that had been going on and off the rails for over 6 months and still had several months to go. “No, now would be the time for HR to implement a policy that states all key employees should never be allowed to take vacation.” Sam still hadn’t moved.


The dreaded vacation…

According to a Mercer survey, “The Total Financial Impact of Employee Absences” the total cost of employee absence can equal as much as 36% of total payroll. Of that amount, planned absences like vacations and holidays average 26.6%.

Additional organization impact comes in the form of indirect cost. It is calculated that per-day productivity amounts to a 15% loss for planned vacation days. Vacation absence negatively affects coworkers and slows down project completion because the “replacement “employee is only 70% as efficient. The work output of 4 to 8 coworkers (typical team), is reduced by 19% due to “coverage” responsibilities.


On Mark’s Side of The Desk:

Mark really dreaded going into Sam’s office in the first place to request a vacation. He deserved it. Lord knows he really really needed it. But he also knew that he would be putting Sam in a real bind. He was, after all, the main designer of the department’s big project. No one else could take over for him. He had designed his career that way – to be the star! But as much as Mark loved that status, it also played against him at times like this. He was burning out. He, the hero, was starting to make some pretty stupid mistakes in his code. He was missing key steps in his processes and spending way too much time in problem-solving mode than usual. Something was obviously wrong.

And as Mark began to reach burnout mode, he began to get angry at his team. At his boss. At his company. How dare they take advantage of him like this? He puts in so many more hours than everyone else. He single-handedly is saving their biggest account. All he wants is two bloody weeks’ vacation so he can head to Pennsylvania for his Medieval War tournament. A passion that his bosses knew he had and had absolutely committed to it every summer.

By the time Mark got to Sam’s office to request the vacation, he was in a really snarly mood. If this company didn’t honor his request, then they didn’t honor him. He was going to the tournament…employed or not!


What they really think:

  • Towers Watson 2010/2011 Staying @ Work survey (a study of North American companies health and productivity practices) shows that 89% of employees surveyed said excessive workload and long hours was having an deleterious impact on them and their productivity (compared to 64% in 2009).
  • Employment firm Hudson conducted a survey which revealed the following; more than half of American workers fail to take all their vacation days. 30% say they use less than half their allotted time and 20% take only a few days instead of a week or two. Those that take less than 20% of their allotted vacation time for two consecutive years are 73% more likely to take an unexpected extended medical leave from the company.
  • Data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development shows that countries that mandate 28+ vacation days a year, and are 2% more productive than the U.S. (Luxemborg mandates 32 vacation days a year and is 27% more efficient than the U.S)


The Unfreezing:

Sam realized Mark was looking awfully uncomfortable in his chair…probably because Sam had been staring at him (actually probably more like glaring at him) for the last few minutes while digging his fingernails into his chair’s arms as he processed Mark’s request. Sam took a deep breath and strangely felt a calming of his body and his heart slowed down by several beats a minute.

As his body calmed, his mind became a little clearer. He thought about how hard Mark worked for him. He thought about how much he depended on Mark and how devastating it would be to lose him for good, let alone 2 weeks. He knew that Mark didn’t ask for much as he was a proud man. A little respect and acknowledgement would go a long way here.

Sam thought and he thought and he played a few scenarios in his head and he took a few more deep breaths and then Sam’s “heart grew 3 sizes that day”. Sam knew that he had to grant Mark his request. Because losing Mark for two weeks was way better than losing him for good.

He smiled, unclenched his fists from his chair, and said, “Absolutely Mark. You definitely deserve it. I know how hard you’ve been working and we really appreciate it. And you and I agreed from the start you’d never miss that tournament.” Mark’s body language relaxed during Sam’s response and he sat back in his chair. Sam continued, “All I ask is that in preparation for your vacation, would you mind working with me on some game plans for the team while you’re away so we can keep the project going at a relatively good pace for you and the client?”

When Mark left the office in a very good mood, Sam deleted the e-mail to his HR director regarding the request for a new vacation policy.