Don’t Go on Vacation

This is a guest post by Robert, who lives in Calgary and works as a financial adviser. He is married, has three kids and plans to retire at age 35.  Robert and his wife then plan to return to school and become teachers, eventually living and working overseas.

Who doesn’t enjoy going on vacation? When I work hard at work, I like to get away and relax. Most people seem to enjoy taking time off, whether it’s to travel, or to just spend time with friends or family. Having a change of pace can allow a person to “recharge their batteries.” But is there a downside to taking a vacation?

I wouldn’t have thought so. But in early 2009, I was talking with an engineer who works in the same building. He was telling me about his interest in personal finance. It was a tough time in Calgary, as oil sands projects were being shelved and engineers were being laid off. He knew all the sage advice: spend less, save more and invest wisely. But he added one more that surprised me: don’t go on vacation. He said that in a difficult economy, being absent makes it easier for the boss to fire someone. I wasn’t sure whether or not he was joking, but I hadn’t thought of it that way before.

In early 2011, I was busy at the office. I had a number of projects that I was helping out on, so when I took my family to Phoenix for 10 days, I felt that I had earned the break. Apparently not. When I came back, my boss invited me into his office for a chat. “We did a bit of a test while you were gone,” he told me. “I think we’d get along fine without your help.” In the end, there are a couple projects they still want help with, basically on a contract basis. But the person who was going to replace me in about 18 months will instead start this summer. (More below for anyone interested.)

But you can’t win. My father occasionally travels to conferences as part of his business. He recently told a story about how prior employees would talk about him while he was gone and complain that he wasn’t working hard enough because he was out of town. A friend who owns a business does a lot of work from wherever he is, even on vacation. But he said that, even after spending a couple hours working with employees via conference call, they’ll wish him an enjoyable vacation. “I’m working as hard as they are!” he told me.

If I were to give advice, it would be to take frequent, brief vacations. Taking an extra day together with a long weekend would allow a person to take a four day vacation, which can be quite enjoyable, while only spending a single day outside the office. And always look busy! Has anyone else experienced trouble as a result of taking a vacation?

For those interested, I had planned to go back to school in September 2012 to become a certified teacher. My boss had someone who was interested in joining our business, anyway. We agreed that he would replace me, but that I would commit to stay on until he joined us. In the meantime, I’m pretty close financially to being able to retire. Another year of income would have really helped, but I have been pushed away from work and into depending on investment income starting right away. Wish me luck!

12 thoughts on “Don’t Go on Vacation”

  1. I guess that is why they call work “the rat race”, or “dog-eat-dog”, or “the hamster wheel”. So much for respect for loyalty on the job.

    May your experience with teaching be much better. I pretty much got burned out from teaching almost 40 years (loved the kids, hated marking papers, calling anxious parents, dealing with administrators). Lots of room (at least for me) for creativity and passion. Good luck to you.

  2. That really sucks that they used your vacation as a test to get rid of you early.

    I’m curious as to why you told your employer about your future plans? If they know you are leaving eventually, it makes it a lot easier for them to potentially let you go early – if it benefits them.

    If I ever get to the point when I start thinking about quitting, my employer will find out with two weeks notice and not a minute earlier.

  3. I understand the points in the article, but I really can’t agree with that — to tell everyone not to go on vacation just out of fear of losing their jobs.

    Here’s my personal opinion, so take it with a grain of salt:

    We are already a workaholic nation, and I’m not saying we should take an European tack and enjoy 8 weeks of vacation during the year, but the few weeks we have — we should NOT be working during them and we should really take the time to recharge.

    If not, we’ll burn out early and regret working so hard when we’re 65 and retiring.

    It’s not a life I want to live, worrying all the time about if I’ll be fired if I go on a vacation that I not only deserve but am entitled to by law.

    That’s not to say the employee is blameless — trimming the fat so to speak, is an important part of running an efficient company, so why keep on employees you don’t really need?

    If you are working in a company where you are scared to take a vacation it usually means that you already know you’re not really required.

    If you have a job that doesn’t let you go on vacation for a week or two weeks as you deserve it, then you are either in the wrong job or in the wrong company.

  4. I, too, find it sad that there are some corporate environments where employees are fearful to take advantage of the benefits that are offered to them as part of their agreed-upon compensation package, due to the risk of losing their jobs.

  5. I take a 4 week vacation every summer. Plenty of people in my company do the same thing, which is why I felt okay deciding to do it myself, although it did occur to me that they might notice that my absence didn’t cause too much disruption and that therefore I was not all that necessary. It’s a catch-22… you should be able to take the vacation you earned, but given the lack of loyalty shown by employers, it is a risk. I just feel lucky my supervisor really values me.

  6. Robert, I’d love to know roughly what kind of assets you have accumulated to allow yourself to retire in your early 30’s…

  7. Wow, deja vue. In January of 2010 I was out for a month after a surgery. I came back after a month of recuperating and was told that my 6 computer applications I was taking care of was given to other people. I was not in their plans to work on any projects that were upcoming. I am 55 now and still unable to find work. It is hard but we are surviving because my wife has a good job. We have downgraded a lot of stuff to live on one income. My dream of travel during retirement is basically gone.

  8. I’ve got a flip side to your story. My company gave me the month of Feb. off to head south with my retired husband and enjoy the warm weather. I used this time while I was off to “test drive” retirement and decided that it felt pretty darned nice and when we returned I gave my notice and am leaving at the end of June. I felt a little guilty about my “reward” to them for their kindness but there are plenty of people looking for jobs and my company has already hired a replacement for me. After 30 years at what I do, I was a little crusty anyway so maybe this is in their best interest …

    As an aside, while I was away on “vacation” for a month I had my laptop with me and worked everyday for at least an hour. It seems to be the nature of the workplace these days. Electronics make it much more difficult to fully divorce yourself from your work while away.

  9. I used a lengthy semi-retirement to give a “test drive” for full retirement. This included reducing my weekly hours worked not once but twice in 7 years.

    In a way, I had a small vacation every week by working only 2 or 3 days. It was easy to get used to and the added days off only made me hate the working days (and especially the commute) even more.

    Then everything fell into place in 2008 and I reduced my weekly hours worked to zero.

  10. I really enjoyed and appreciated all your comments. I love the variety of perspectives you have all brought. When I first wrote this, I thought there was a hint of humour in my subject. Now it doesn’t seem so funny. So I can better understand people who are afraid for their job, but I’m also really glad that I had prepared financially. I also know that I have marketable skills, and if I choose to return to work, I can.

  11. Wow talk about ungrateful employer.

    Where I work, the plan is to make it so there is as little as possible disruption from people taking vacations (i.e. my boss does not want to notice that I am on vacation), not the other way around!

    I also never work on the weekends or holidays regardless if it easy or not to keep in touch with electronic devices. We get so few days off, why waste them doing free work?

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