Vacation interruptus: Don't let an office tech crisis ruin your getaway

You leave for vacation, and all heck breaks loose back at the office. It doesn't have to be that way -- learn from these tech managers' tales of holiday woe.

Planning on taking a vacation this summer? If you're a tech manager, you may find yourself with unwanted baggage -- guilt, anxiety over how things are going in your absence or even concern about the status of your job.

working on vacation

That's because these days the need for time off takes a back seat to job survival and "the need to be needed," says Judy Arteche-Carr, managing director with Arteche Global Group, a management consulting company.

That situation can be particularly acute in high tech. "Businesses' perception of IT is high-availability, and that extends to managers," she explains.

IT staffers aren't the only ones feeling the vacation pinch, according to a poll conducted by CareerBuilder at the end of May. Of the 5,600 full-time U.S. workers polled, 24% reported they have had to work while their families went on vacation without them, and 16% said they gave up vacation days in the previous year because they didn't have time to use them.

Of the respondents who said they do plan on vacationing this summer, 30% reported they will contact work while on vacation, up from 25% last year, and 30% said they plan to take office work with them.

Statistics like those are discouraging to Arteche-Carr and other experts who watch the IT industry. It's true that IT systems have become essential to business operations, but the successful functioning of the IT department shouldn't rest on any one person's shoulders -- especially if that person is vacationing, ill or otherwise unavailable.

It's a bad sign if the organization won't be able to survive without the boss for a week, says Arteche-Carr, pointing out that "relying on one person increases risk." (For more, see Should Vacations for Tech Managers Be Mandatory?)

Aside from the health of the company's IT function, there is the health of the IT staff to consider as well. "For employees who don't take vacation, burnout can be high. Even an efficient employee will lose focus," she says.

All told, vacations serve as mini tests to prove if a department can function when key players are away. That's the theory, anyway. In reality, IT departments sometimes flunk that test in a big way.

The results can either be comical or turn out to be a serious wake-up call to organizations that need a better Plan B for when the IT manager is out on holiday. To prime your mental pump before your own vacation, or to help you do a better job prepping for the next time you take time off, read this compilation of anecdotes about good vacations gone bad and the lessons tech managers learned from them.

Remember to show your backups the basics

Because Matthew Laping is the sole member of the IT department at Alumni Research, a small Holiday, Fla., company that publishes alumni directories, the company's tech-savvy CEO and a data specialist who is also a power user usually fill in as needed for Laping when he is away. Laping typically hands them the keys to the server room and a list of admin passwords before he leaves town.

That was the case a few years ago when Laping took his young daughters on vacation to Disney World in Orlando, about a two-hour drive from his Tampa-area office.

Shortly after arriving at Disney, Laping got a call from the CEO and the power user saying one of the servers that provides Web services to Alumni Research's 300 clients was down.

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