Vacation Days

It’s a peaceful morning sitting here lakeside. Occasionally a loon breaks the silence, the mist is rising off the water, some birds flutter by or are heard calling to each other from the safety of the trees. It was a gorgeous, solid 8 hours of sleep when I’m use to 6 1/2. Ah…vacation.

I suppose what makes vacation days so special is the infrequency of them. We know each year we only have so many, and the fewer we get, the more we may try to pack as much as we can into them in order to provide us with the memories needed to sustain us for another year. Some pack so much into them in fact, that when they head back home, they feel the need to take a break!

How do you see your vacation? A time to recharge? Reconnect with your culture? Take a trip to somewhere you’ve never been? Maybe your vacation is really spent at home, unwinding in your patio recliner, beautifying your property, enjoying what you’ve worked so hard to create. I suppose how you spend your vacation depends on a number of things; your finances, interests, the number of days you’ve got in the first place, the distance you’re willing to travel and whether the decision on how you spend it is yours alone to make or not.

I find a lot of people tie their vacation to the work they do. It’s understandable that colleagues will ask what your plans are. When you come back they might ask to see photos unless you’ve posted them online. They will certainly hope you come back recharged and energized as you get back to your job.

Some people talk about getting away from the job as if the job were something bad; something to escape from. These are likely the same people who on Monday mornings are heard to say, “Only 4 more days until the weekend”, and ever day they count down the days until they are released. Do you see your job that way? Maybe it’s not a healthy view to see yourself as being chained to your job like a sentence and your vacation as a release for good behaviour.

Whatever you do, however you spend it, I certainly hope that you have few regrets when you’re back to work. You know, regrets over how much you spent, what you wished you’d done vs. what you actually did. Some people feel they’ve got obligations they have to keep which cut into their, ‘me’ or ‘us’ time. Visiting family, spending time doing pretty much anything when you’d rather be doing something else.

For me personally, there’s something about heading out on a highway when I’m on vacation that just feels different than when I head out on those same roads at other times. Especially if I’m headed north. I’ve got these visual landmarks that signal to me that the vacation has really begun; that stretch of highway where there’s rock walls on both sides of the highway, the curving roads that are tree-lined and the blue rivers and lakes that come into view through the speckled green canopies of birch trees and pines. Every so often I just realize I’m breathing deeper, feeling calmer, relaxing as I immerse myself in the natural environment.

Road trips pulling a camper with no specific destinations planned which must be arrived at on a certain day; this is my personal idea of a vacation. You know, if the road still calls and you feel good, you keep driving. If the mood strikes you to pull in early, you start looking for a place to set up that has a swimming area, (lakes and rivers are best, outdoor pools next), a trail or two for hiking. Hey, even a campground in a small town is nice for a change when you want to do laundry, sightsee, have the odd meal out rather than cook it yourself.

The thing about vacation time is that it’s supposed to be YOUR time. Time to spend as you choose and with whom you choose. It’s necessary time too. Sometimes I think we’ve got this whole work time / vacation time matrix backwards. It would be good wouldn’t it to have more time to spend as we wish and less working. Not that work is something to avoid or get away from if and when you love the work you do.

So what’s in your plans? May the weather be good, the watch left at home in the dresser drawer, the memories you create positive and the laughs plentiful. This is time to treat yourself; read that book, rest and relax, explore and learn, challenge yourself or maybe even turn your attention to some self-healing.  What you do should bring you contentment, joy and have you happier in the end.

Here and now I’m looking at two weeks. The plan calls for some time renting a cottage, a little camping, a weekend with family at their place on the lake, and I’m trading my job as an Employment Counsellor for my role as Grandfather.

Sure when it’s all over we return to our workplaces and for a short-time we’re still feeling the impact of our time off. Soon we’re back in the swing of things; our everyday working life takes over. Not such a bad thing though; it does give us reason to look at the calendar and see when we’re next off!


Welcome Back! How Was Your Vacation? Go Anywhere?

3 weeks off. It was nice if you’re interested in asking. Today is the first day back to work and I’m looking forward to coming back into the fold. How do you feel about returning to your workplace after time away for some rest and relaxation?

The predictability of the questions I’ll be asked isn’t irksome or tiring. No, it’s good you know; good to have that regularity and it’s others way of saying you’ve been missed.

Unlike some other times I’ve been off, there’s been some changes in the workplace I’ll have to catch up on. We’ve two new additions to our team; two who ironically joined the team on the very first day I was off. That’s good really, as it has given them 3 weeks to get involved and into the mix. Then there’s the impact of some changes our Provincial Government announced during my absence which I’ll have to find out about. Oh well, it’s quite different from going back and have everyone tell you nothing much happened in your absence. “Same old, same old”; not this time around!

Of course there will be the usually higher than normal amount of emails and phone messages to respond to. Yes even though the voice recording advised I was away and the email had a message advising the same, there will be an abundance of both upon my return. Now mind you a lot of the emails will be easy to delete without reading them just by looking at the subject line. So emails telling me who is away each day for the past 3 weeks as an example are of no interest to me. You have the same experience I suppose; returning to more email than you’d like and many of them of the ‘delete without opening’ nature?

Today though, there won’t be much time to stand around and chat with co-workers who ask about the time away. No, I’m scheduled to lead a workshop on learning the basics of the computer while simultaneously sharing how I go about it with a colleague who joined our team earlier in the year but who has yet to run the workshop solo. Getting the body and brain psyched-up to ‘workshop  mode’ right way is imperative! Whatever happened to coming back and being scheduled as an extra myself, rather than the number one guy?

Well, I did have a nice time away from work. My wife and I had two babysitting gigs with the new grandson, which is very special. Now 4 1/2 months old, he’s still very heavy on the sleep, pee and feed schedule, but there’s play time and more of the genuine smiles and giggles brought about by a song or a laugh instead of just gas!

I also had an Electrician in to add power to a newly built workshop. It came on the last two days of the vacation mind, so I’ve not had time out there to play with it much, but I’m looking forward to many woodworking projects in the future; something I did in the past and quite enjoyed. Day one and two of my vacation were actually spent digging a 1 1/2 foot deep trench the length of our house and through some pretty rocky and clay packed ground for the laying of the cable. Not everybody’s idea of a good time, but it had to be done.

We did more of course; lounging around the backyard, barbecuing, reading, some shopping and the odd day trip here and there. It’s time though to go back to work and I not only feel it, I’m ready for it with the right attitude too. 3 weeks is a long rest and I’m centered again, which, if you’ve ever felt ready to return yourself, you know what I mean. A week doesn’t seem long enough to unwind and any longer than 3 weeks might not do much unless it was some driving trip across Canada.

I found myself wondering about the hoped for success that many of the people I was helping to find jobs may have experienced in my absence. Those emails or phone messages I am looking forward to hearing and reading. Fingers crossed for them. And of course, I’m not the only one on vacation at this time of year, so I’m interested to know and hopeful that others who had time off had an equally enjoyable vacation.

Yes I’m grateful for the time off and recognize not everyone gets more than 2 weeks vacation for the year. I’m locked in at 5 now until retirement; still some years into the future for that by the way, but I can’t accumulate more than 5 weeks off unless some change in practice occurs. I believe I’ve got the equivalent of a week left spread around Christmas and the odd day here and there.

Ah but back to today. Focus Kelly! Those 12 people in your computer class don’t know or really care about your vacation! Right! There isn’t much time to transition from sandals and shorts into Workshop Facilitator and I’d best get ready now!

In short, (not shorts) it’s good to be back! This blog is part of getting back into the daily routine. Structure and routine are good for me; not in everything I do, but in this case, most welcome.

If you took time off yourself recently or have it approaching, I hope it was equally good or better even!

A Co-Worker Is Absent. What Do You Do?

Now let’s be honest shall we? This question of what to do as a response can be looked at and answered with a few possible approaches. You might be thinking to yourself that what you SHOULD do and what you’ll ACTUALLY do are two very different things. If you and I were sitting across from each other in a job interview and I posed the question to you, no doubt you’d voice the reply that falls in line with the former, not the latter.

Then again the answer to this question might depend on whether the absence of a co-worker has any immediate impact on your job responsibilities. It could be that when someone on the team or shift is away, there’s no impact on anyone’s job duties. With a neutral impact, you might just be entirely unaffected; no increased calls, no extra customers to contact, no extra work or extra benefits coming your way.

Far from a negative thing, it could be that you’re on commission, and one less co-worker is one less person getting in the way of your potential earnings. An absent co-worker is a good thing, and that dream vacation you’ve been working extra time to realize just got a little closer. You not only thrive in their absence, you relish the possibility that you’ll find yourself in the same situation tomorrow!

However, in many environments, the absence of one person on the team has an impact on those employees who did make it in to work; the impact is often more work to be spread out, increased pressure to pitch in and contribute, etc. What you had planned to do for the day isn’t going to happen the way you’d envisioned it. Upper management has possibly come around to make sure everybody is well aware of the absent employee; the speech about teamwork, the slap-on-the-back, ‘all for one and one for all’ with a hearty, “I know I can count on you all” sermon said, they return to their offices thankful that they are one step removed from the front line.

There’s the co-worker who responds by immediately checking the absent employees schedule, and calls all their appointments to cancel as fast as possible. This way, they won’t be called upon to see clients and customers they don’t know. It may not be the best customer service, but hey, it’s a dog-eat-dog world right? I mean you fend for yourself and let the fallout – if there even is any – happen down the road.

It’s not all bad though. No, there’s the overly helpful ones; you know, the man or woman who says to themselves, ‘I’d want someone to do what they could in my absence so sure I’ll pitch in and do my share to the extent I can.’ They do so much in fact that their own work takes a back seat. Slackers love having these people on their team. They just seem so easy to take advantage of having that good nature imbedded in their DNA. If the slacker plays their cards right and isn’t too overt in how they seem to do things when they really don’t, they could get that do-gooder to cover for them in return for doing next to nothing to help out at these times for years.

The accountable ones…now these people are the ones that use solid reasoning to decide what they can offer without sacrificing their own schedules unduly. After all, a customer is a customer no matter if it’s theirs or the absent employee on the one hand. However, on the other hand, they might have their own quotas that need attention, and they reason that if the workload gets split up evenly – everybody doing their part – the impact on everyone overall is minimized and shared.

Some readers are already moving to what they perceive the view of management will be. You know, seeing supervisors and bosses as not caring really who they’ve got on their teams as long as the work gets done, quotas are met, targets achieved and profits maximized. The parts are interchangeable; and you and I in their opinion are the interchangeable parts to be discarded when it suits. With a long line of people willing to take your place and mine, they just don’t care the way they used to.

Maybe that has been your experience and if so, it’s shaped the way you view the world and the people in it. You’ve possibly become jaded yourself in how you view things and how you view others.

If you’ve had bosses that not only expect results but truly care about the workers achieving those results, you see things differently. Why I’ve had bosses who roll up their sleeves and pitch in from time-to-time when and as needed. It’s kept them in touch with the front lines, gained respect among staff and has never been a sign of their lack of supervision and leadership to do so.

You know what prompted this topic for today? You guessed it! An absent co-worker. Actually, you’re only part right. There’s not just one, but 4 co-workers on my team away today and only one was scheduled off. So three unexpected absences. Yikes! Thankfully our team is made up of contributors, problem-solvers. In addition, three staff on other teams voluntary contributed time to cover short breaks and lunch.

So how do you react to absent co-workers?

Commitment: You’re In Or You’re Out

As an Employment Counsellor, I counted on to run workshops and lead presentations on a daily basis for those seeking employment. There are all kinds of people who attend these workshops and there are varying levels of commitment, interest and motivation to actually look for work amongst those who attend. Over the years I’ve come to understand that.

I think by the way for anyone new to the field of Social Services or as a reminder to those of us who have been in the field for years, it’s important to remind ourselves that despite our own level of commitment to serving the unemployed, it’s equally important to recognize that each person attending is an adult and responsible for their own choices. This is one of the key principles to adult education; and is a marked departure from teaching young students in schools; kids can’t just get up and walk out when they wish.

So back to my experience interacting with job seekers attending my workshop and their varying levels of commitment. One of the key things I do that is different from my peers is make a personal phone call to those that are considering opting into an intensive two-week job search group. This way, I can go over the expectations with them and I offer them the opportunity to express any doubts or concerns that might impede on their ability to attend. Point blank, I ask each potential attendee the question, “Are you able and willing to commit to this two-week block of time from 9:00 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. on a daily basis?”

Now if the answer is negative to the above question there isn’t any point to continuing with further details of the program, so it’s a pretty upfront and early question; one that is consistently asked of each person.

So you can imagine my surprise when every now and then someone approaches me in the actual workshop to either ask of me or inform me that they need time off from job searching to do something or attend something. Such was the case this past week. Yes I was in the room with all the participants when one gentleman said he wanted to speak to me about Eid.

Now he identifies himself as a Muslim and says that Eid being the equal of Christmas to North Americans, it’s an important day of celebration. I of course know where he’s going with this statement; he’s about to ask permission to miss time and stay home. Sure enough, he asks for Eid off to spend with his family. The fact it is Eid doesn’t really matter to me; the request is for time away from the full-time job search I invited him to attend and to which he committed to attending each and every day for the two weeks. Eid isn’t something that would have come up suddenly and unexpected; it’s an annual event; and I agree an important celebration; even being Muslim has nothing to do with it as I see it.

So how much time off he is asking for? The entire day? Half a day? I was shocked when he asked for ½ an hour; he’d arrive at 9:30 a.m. instead of the 9:00 a.m. start time I hold everyone accountable for. I agreed immediately as a show of compromise; after all, he’s an adult and I believe we are all responsible to make our own decisions. “What I will miss is mine to lose” he stated to me, and he was right.

So what happened the following day? Well, he didn’t show up at 9:30 a.m. nor at any time during the entire day. He didn’t email, phone or send his message in any format whatsoever. I was left to wonder if he was going to return at all on the following day, and I nonetheless hoped he would and prepared myself to talk with him about personal accountability, respect for me and his job searching peers.

He did call the next day and left a message indicating he wouldn’t be coming anymore; thanking me very much for the little bit of information I did impart to him. Then he indicated he had secured a full-time job in his field and wished everyone else the best.

Now I’m happy for him; I absolutely want to make that clear. I’m happy anytime a person out of work secures a job and moves towards financial independence. I can’t be entirely convinced however that this gentleman fully gets and understands what commitment is. Sure I know my employment workshop isn’t a paid job, but I do ask those attending to treat it as such. Show up at 9:00 a.m. sharp, be dressed in business casual interview attire, be focused and work hard.

I can’t help but wonder what he’ll do if and when he has another reason for needing to be away from work. How many employers are going to give an employee their blessing to miss their third day of work even for something as important as Eid? My guess is zero if they specifically asked the employee if they had anything which would prevent their attendance and then once hired they asked for time off on the second day and took the whole day when ½ an hour was agreed upon.

What are your thoughts?


Summer Vacations

Remember if you can back to your elementary school days for a moment and the end of the school year just as summer arrived. It seemed like the summer vacation would last a very long time and if your parents were like mine, there were weekend camping trips, maybe even one major driving trip. Then there were the days of just hanging out at home, playing with the kids in your area, and the days were long and happy.

Fast forward now to your present experience working for an organization where there’s been a shift in your schedule; you might get 2 weeks off work a year when you first start working, or maybe you’ve been there long enough to up that total to 4 or 5 weeks if you’ve been with a company long enough. Unless you are a politician or a teacher, you’ve no longer got the entire summer off to do your thing.

I don’t know if it’s because the number of weeks we have off as adults is so much reduced from the 8 or 9 weeks we had off as kids, but there seems to be this need to, ‘do something’ with those precious holidays. It can go like this at the office just before you take off:

“So what are you doing on your holidays?”
“Going anywhere?”
“Maybe a little camping”
“No like are you DOING anything?”

Does this kind of conversation imply that the person asking doesn’t really validate the experience of camping as some kind of legitimate and good use of vacation time? Well maybe. I think though it’s important to realize that because we are all different people who experience joy in our lives differently, it is only natural that we also find pleasure and fulfillment in different ways when it comes to unstructured time apart from our working lives. No matter our choices, each is equally a valid use of our time that brings pleasure and meaning to us in how we choose to use it.

In my own case, a two-week vacation starts this weekend. The plans my wife and I have are to turn our vehicle north, and pull our tent trailer behind us. Where are we going? North. Neither of us knows exactly where we will end up. On this trip, no reservations have been made, no advance sites have been ear-marked as must-sees, and no timetable established other than being back in time to return to work on July 8. We will drive when we want, perhaps to a new location every single day. We might stay a day or two in one place, take that interesting looking road to the left for a bit, hike a trail or two, camp by a river, take in a drive-in, make some local purchases in some nearby country store, or end up having a picnic by a waterfall. Who knows?

We might check in with the neighbours looking after our plants and grass cutting here and there, but we won’t stress about it much. If we do, we do. If the weather is sunny and warm, we’ll swim and enjoy the heat. If it’s cooler than we suspect, we’ll have fires at night and throw on a hoodie. If it rains, we’ll head on in to a small town and window shop and pick up some butter tarts and check out some pottery or museum. At a campground, you can just lie and listen to the rain on the roof, have an afternoon nap if it pleases you, read a book or two, play some table games, and strum the guitar.

Another thing that will change is a break from technology. The GPS in the car will be handy, but I suspect we won’t be checking work emails, electronic bills can wait until we return, and I’ll catch up on sports scores with local radio stations that will come in and out of reception.

No what we’re looking forward to is feeding chipmunks peanuts in a shell, perhaps right out of our hands and because I’m the braver of us, right out of my mouth. Hang a peanut between your lips, lie down flat on the ground and get that little guy to take it right out of your mouth – and get it recorded on camera or video. I’m always on the look-out for moose, deer, bears, herons, beavers, eagles, turtles and just about anything out of the ordinary.

But here’s the thing. I not running away from work because I love what I do and so does my wife. What we are doing is looking forward to our vacation. It’s a balance between working and personal time. A chance to get immersed in something relaxing, fun, different from the norm, and for me personally, a chance to rekindle my inner spirit. It’s like filling up my reservoir and finding some connection to whatever pulls me back to rocks, rivers and water.

The years I’ve not got to camp always seem somewhat to me as if something is missing. Fortunately we get away almost every year for a time. Whatever you personally do with your vacation, I wish you well and hope it brings you joy and happiness.