What vacation? Expect to work while you're away

The situation's getting worse for some, but many CIOs are aware and are doing what they can to mitigate it.

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Policies differ

Company policy is to encourage people to take all their vacation within the year, since Century 21 doesn't want carryover, he says. While there are no blackout periods, summer tends to be a good time for staff to be out, because November and December are critical times for retailers. "There's no downtime in retail anymore," he adds.

Downtime can also be dicey when a company has a very small IT staff. Michael Feldman, vice president of engineering and IT at BigBelly Solar, a provider of solar-powered trash compactors and enterprise waste and recycling software, is part of an IT staff of two. If there is an emergency while he's on vacation, "I'm going to have to step in and figure it out."

   Michael Feldman
As one of a two-person IT staff, if there is an emergency while he's on vacation, "I'm going to have to step in and figure it out," says Michael Feldman, vice president of engineering and IT at BigBelly Solar.

BigBelly doesn't have a formal policy on vacation and Feldman says he and his colleague coordinate schedules carefully to make sure there is always coverage. "If I were to plan a whole server upgrade I wouldn't plan my vacation a week or two before or after ... you only have to make a mistake once where you let someone write new software, deploy it, test it and then leave to go on vacation."

Feldman says there have been "plenty of times" over the course of his career that he's been called while on vacation, even when he was in Aruba last January. There was a problem with the production server and fortunately he had his iPad with him.

Feldman logged in remotely, got on the phone with someone at the office and was able to finally get at the root of the problem -- after putting in a couple of hours of work. "So you go to the beach and come back and check on things ... you do what you've gotta do."

A good time for others to show off skills

Constant Contact's Adler is planning a week-long cruise to the Caribbean this summer and says vacations are a good time for other IT people to step up. "It's an opportunity for people to sit in your seat and see what it's like on a temporary basis, and a good chance for leadership development and for people to show what they're capable of."

That happened when the company experienced a critical outage, Adler says. "I was on a plane and fortunately, we had the right procedures in place; a number of directors stepped up and handled customers appropriately." He says IT staff did exactly what was expected and, with a little guidance, led the team through a difficult situation. "It was a great example of setting up the planning and figuring out who's in charge. It showed good leadership."

Worst vacation

Pride in IT overall declined slightly in this year's TEKsystem survey, says Hayman, and organizations need to pay attention. If senior-level people are expected to be available 24x7 even while on vacation, "that's an indication that they don't have proper succession management in place. People thrive on being challenged and ... when they have developmental and career growth opportunities." Echoing Adler, Hayman says "If you're setting things up so mid-level people can step in you're going to build a foundation ... of IT talent."

Being unplugged and unavailable while on vacation is more crucial than ever before so IT workers can decompress and become refreshed, industry observers say.

The message to be had from this year's TEKsystems survey, Hayman says, is "it's really important for organizations to consider the long-term ramifications of how they're managing their workforce ... [it] could come back to haunt them."

While elaborate compensation packages may help get talent in the door, it's typically not what keeps them there, Hayman emphasizes. "Currently, there are not enough IT professionals available to meet the demand, meaning oftentimes the IT workers with the most experience or hottest skill sets can basically have their pick of the lot when it comes to a job opportunity."

Companies need to be very careful that they don't "cross the line," he adds. "If organizations are not helping them maintain an appropriate work-life balance, offering training/development opportunities and clear career paths, they'll lose their best talent to the competition."

This article, What vacation? Expect to work while you're away, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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