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The Battle of Vacation Planning

Summer is on the way, which means that we can all look forward to longer days, warmer temperatures and barbecue after blissful barbecue. However, there’s something else up ahead that isn’t so inspiring and which might even make some of us pine for a return to the frigid depths of winter: summer vacation-related conflict at work.

Whether you’re looking to take time off with your family or not, most of us want to take advantage of Canada’s pitilessly short summers by enjoying a long overdue escape from work. But someone has to stick around and do the work — and our experience is that this responsibility often falls to employees who are not coordinating extended vacation with their families.

Now, the first thing to acknowledge here is that there is no ideal solution to this problem. But there is a way to mitigate the resentment and frustration, so that when autumn returns (sorry for the reminder), all employees are focused on the work ahead and not tending to summer vacation-related emotional wounds.

To help achieve this goal, here is what we would urge employees with kids (and those without kids), to keep in mind:

To employees with kids:

As you know, a vacation with the kids is usually just a different kind of work experience. You’ve probably stood in an endless amusement park line, or tended to a car sick or sunburned kid and longed for the good old days of dealing with dozens of phone calls and hundreds of emails. What’s more, it’s not like you have much choice. If you don’t go away with your family during the summer, there’s really no other time of the year. 




However, your colleagues without children may not appreciate your challenge – not because they don’t care but because they simply aren’t aware of your obstacles and restrictions. Most especially they may not grasp that your vacation schedule really isn’t in your control as much as it may appear and in an ideal world you might take your vacation at another time of year. It’s not as if you won’t enjoy the time with your family because you will. It’s that you don’t have as many options as it may seem.

In light of the above, it can be surprisingly helpful to have a simple, friendly chat with your colleagues and let them know that their perception may not (and probably doesn’t) align with your reality. A little empathy goes a long way.  


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To employees without kids:

As you know, it’s not just tax deductions that favour employees with kids: workplace culture can be that way too. Indeed, employees like you without kids are often assumed to be willing (or at least available) to stay late or work weekends.

However, as you can see by reading the above, this thorny vacation-issue is not another grievance for the pile. Employees with kids aren’t trying to take advantage of the situation or of you.

With this being said, you certainly have a right to be part of the discussion to see “who gets to go away when.” And it’s unfair and wrong for employees with kids to assume — as some of them do — that your life is a non-stop party punctuated by work. For example, your vacation may not be a vacation at all. Perhaps you need to visit a sick relative, or you may have been told by your doctor that voluntarily unplugging for a week or two in the summer will likely prevent you from having to take a much longer health-related leave of absence down the road. Or maybe you simply do want to go on vacation somewhere fun after several months of hard work. You’ve earned that right too.

However, the onus is on you to speak up and share your views. Just as you may incorrectly assume certain things about your colleagues with kids, they may do the same. Help them fill in the gaps. And if you decide to step back and give up your summer vacation plans, do so because you care about your colleagues and want to help them out — not because you feel as if you have no choice.

A Final Word

Your HR department is going to have standard policies in place regarding vacation requests, such as: deadlines for submitting a request, the criteria on how requests are approved (e.g. first come first serve, seniority, etc.), rules on how many employees from the same unit can be on vacation at the same time, and so on. Get familiar with these policies for the best chance of having your request approved.

However, sometimes things aren’t going to go the way you want them to. And that’s when dialogue, empathy and teamwork can go a long, long way to avoiding frustration, damaging relationships, and creating a toxic work environment that, if left unchecked, can fester and threaten organizational objectives and goals. 


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