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March 10, 2009

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Even though taking a vacation for two and a half weeks might not make your boss happy, there are still ways to impress the higher-ups while you spend 17 days in the African veldt.

"How well you prepare for your absence says a lot about your time and project management abilities, and that reflects on your professional image at work," said Maureen Carrig, a spokeswoman for OfficeTeam, a Menlo Park, CA-based office staffing firm that specializes in administrative positions. "You can enjoy that time off a little bit more if you take those steps beforehand to plan and prepare well."

Before the trip, make a plan

Carrig says someone going on an extended vacation should first sit down and outline his or her job duties.

"Lists are key," Carrig said. "Just as you'd make a packing list of what you'd bring on vacation, you should make a list of what you do at work."

The list can help prospective vacationers recall every uncompleted project and unattended task. At that point, delegating or postponing them becomes easier. Carrig urges employees to start their lists one month before their departures.

"One problem that's easy to encounter is waiting until the last minute - again, similar to packing. A lot of times, it's the day before the person leaves and all of a sudden, they've got many critical projects they don't know what to do with or how they're going to get done. If you start 30 days out, you can add to it, brainstorm, decide what people in your department can handle the projects."

Keeping you covered

Companies can also take steps to make sure their lucky employees can jet off on a 17-day jungle adventure with minimal workplace disruption.

TDIndustries, an employee-owned construction industry in Dallas, TX, cross-trains its office staff so they can cover for absent co-workers. Someone in the accounts payable department, for example, will spend time in the credit and billing areas as well.

And in April, every TDIndustries employee was asked to create a list of frequently asked questions and business contacts for their co-workers to use in case of an emergency absence.

"[If]I get hit by the beer truck on the way to work, my entire team has that list and they can reference that," said Coley Lowe, human resources officer with TDIndustries."

Of course, when workers go on vacation, chances are they haven't completely disconnected from the workplace. A survey of more than 5,000 executives in December 1999 showed that 82 percent did work on vacation. Of these work enthusiasts, 28 percent used the telephone to contact the office, 13 used e-mail, and 13 percent actually shortened their vacations because of work. The survey was conducted by MRI, a recruiting firm.

"These figures are astounding but should really come as no surprise," Allen Salikof, MRI's president and CEO, said when the survey was released. "They're a consequence of the way we work today - the lines between work and family life are increasingly blurring. This extends to our vacation and leisure time as well."

Long distance - very long distance - telecommuting

While most executives have long had the ability to check in from the office or convention center, Internet and phone services are now nearly available virtually everywhere. AT&T offers a service to make American cell phones usable in more than 80 countries. One African tourism web site lists eight Internet cafes in Kenya.

With Nairobi's less-than-reliable utilities in mind, the Chase Cybercafe on Kenyatta Avenue in Nairobi even advertises that "Each machine has a UPS [Uninterruptible Power Supply] in the event of power failure."

The incredibly shrinking vacation

But between unreliable connections abroad and the hassles of redistributing work during absences, many modern workers prefer shorter vacations.

"On average, people are finding ways to take more frequent, shorter breaks," said Laurie Murphy, Vault.com's expert in employer-employee relations. "That has a lot to do with family situations. They can't take their kids out of school for weeks, or their spouses can't take weeks off."

In fact, some companies have created policies that prevent workers from taking all their vacation days at once.

"Two weeks that's probably not a problem, but three weeks, that probably is," said a recruiter for high tech companies in Northern California. "Say they're process engineers. If there's an issue that comes up during production, there'll be no one to handle it."

Despite the length of the trip, Murphy cautions workers to avoid working too much during their vacations.

"If employers are really serious about providing vacation as a benefit, they have to allow employees to take time off away from work."

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Filed Under: Workplace Issues

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