I recently returned from a two week trip to New Orleans, for rest & relaxation. And it reconfirmed for me my suspicions that sometimes the best thing I can do, from a process & procedure standpoint, is to leave for a while.
Banks usually have a mandatory absence policy as part of their internal controls. The United States’ Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) encourages all financial institutions to require employees to take no less than two weeks of vacation every year:
During this time, their duties and responsibilities should be assumed by other employees. This basic control has proven to be an effective internal safeguard in preventing fraud. In addition, such a policy is viewed as a benefit to the well-being of the employees and can be a valuable aid to the institution’s overall training program.
I think this is solid advice, not just for financial institutions, but for IT as well. When people on my team go on vacation it exposes gaps in process, causes documentation to be updated, and just generally cleans a lot of little things up. In my case, I returned to a concise list of things that needed my attention, what one of my coworkers dubbed my “honey-do” list. Ha!
The trick for IT guys is twofold. First, to pull this off your duties and responsibilities need to be completely assumed by others. No checking your email from the hotel. No doing work from a cafe. I usually tell my coworkers to call me if they get really stuck and it can’t wait, but otherwise I let them do my job in my absence. No pagers, no email. If you’re gone you’re gone.
Second, your coworkers cannot treat any problems they encounter as some giant failure on your part. And similarly, you should not take a list of problems they found as a personal attack on you. Going on vacation should be restful for you, and educational for everybody, and when you return you can use that education to improve all the processes and procedures. No blame, no finger pointing, no apologies. Just agree that there’s some stuff to fix, then fix the problems and move on.
I can just hear some of you asking “But what if I’m the only IT guy?” Sure, smaller companies with a single IT guy have different situations. Even then, there are ways to take a no laptops, no pagers vacation. Is there another employee that is good with this stuff, that you could document most routine operations for? What about a local consulting company that could step in for two weeks if needed? Don’t feel guilty about proposing this, or setting it up. It’s good for your company. After all, what would happen to your company if you were hospitalized for two weeks and they had no choice in the matter? Having a plan for you to be on vacation is just a way to responsibly plan & practice for more serious situations.
Downtime is something everybody needs in order to be a better person. It’s good for the business because it makes them more resilient overall, and certainly more prepared if something were to happen to you. It’s cross-training for your coworkers, and makes you happy and relaxed. And besides, with something like 85% of outages caused by human error, how many problems will they actually have if you’re not around to mess with stuff? :)