Summertime and the Living is Easy

summertimeBy Craig Jackman

It’s summertime and that means vacation season. In my cluster, that can become a big deal, with different reps covering each other’s accounts, and then directing those accounts to different writers in the Creative department, to say nothing of all the different jocks taking time off. In Production it’s a little different. Of the five producers we have on staff, we have one guy with 25 years in the company and six weeks vacation. I’m coming up on 20 years with the same company and five weeks vacation. There’s a third producer with 25 years in the market, though not all with the same company. The other two are younger than us geezers, with only a handful of years’ seniority and vacation each. However we’re all family men and that means different demands on vacation time as well, with trips here, extended time at the lake there, and the odd stretch transporting the oldest off to another term at University.

As Production Supervisor, one of the things I have to do is balance all the vacation time with the amount of work that never ends and still needs to get done. For example, starting next year all of my guys will be up to a minimum of three weeks vacation. While corporate policy allows a limited amount of vacation days to be carried over from one year into the first quarter of the next, it’s with managers’ approval. However, our Market Managers have requested that nobody carry over vacation time because of how carried over vacation is showing up on the books in accounting. So now it’s use it or lose it.

To assist with workload, I encourage my fellow producers to arrange it so that only one of us is off at any one time. That doesn’t mean that we never have two of us off at once, but it’s the exception to the rule. The last time was a couple of years back, after I had arranged a 10-day winter vacation in Florida. One of the other producer’s wives won a two week cruise holiday at her office Christmas party (nice company eh?), and it had to be taken at the same time that I was going to be out of the country. As this was scheduled for the post-Christmas end of January lull, it wasn’t going to be a big issue, and the other three would be able to handle the important stuff back at the stations. Had it been a busier spring or summer period, it would have been and issue and we would have had to find another solution.

The best way I’ve found to balance vacation requests is to have everyone book their important vacation time off early... like the first couple of weeks of January early. I ask for exceptional requests first. Having your traditional last week of July and first week of August off so that you can go to your cottage by the lake isn’t an exceptional request. Having to drive halfway across the continent for my wife’s niece’s wedding, or flying off to Scotland to get married are exceptional requests. Exceptional requests are one time only, and there is no way to move them or to get out of them. For balance, if one of my producers has an exceptional vacation request, they don’t get first shot at other prime vacation times. So they have to decide what’s more important to them and their families, the niece’s wedding or the last week of July beside the lake. It usually winds up that everyone gets about 3/4 of their vacation time booked early, and everyone is left with a handful of days to use on shorter notice throughout the year, to use as golf days, or just for “I need an extra day” long weekends.

From where I sit under my supervisor’s hat, the best thing about this system is how smoothly it works, and how few arguments we’ve had about it. Since vacation plans for July are hardly ever finalized in January, it’s been easy for us to swap a week here or change a day there. The fact that we all have very understanding spouses helps a lot too.

I haven’t had to go out and hire somebody on a part-time/fill-in basis in a number of years, because of who I have on staff. This is good for a couple of reasons as it doesn’t cost any extra money for one, and keeping expenses down is always a good thing. Also I don’t have to invest the hours in training someone who’s not going to repay that investment as a long-term asset to the company.

On the other hand, those part-time jobs were a great starter position for some that have gone on to other things in radio, to uncover some real gems and get them pointed in the right direction. The last part-timer I had got hired full-time at the first opening we had. Should someone decide to leave now, I’ve got no obvious candidate for the position and nobody to take up the slack in the interim. I may be saving hours in not training a part-timer, but I’m also not learning or re-learning at the same time. I’m not “paying back” for when I started out as a part- timer, so there’s a touch of guilt as well.

Vacations are a great benefit that everyone is entitled to. Everyone should try to take most of his or her vacation allotment every year as well. Like an athlete after an event, you need that time to reflect on what you’ve done in the past year, to relax, and to recharge your creative muscle. Use your vacation time to payback your family for being supportive during those long hours you’ve been putting in, and for listening to your rants about those “special” clients and co-workers. If your company lets you carry over and accumulate vacation time, that’s cool too; just remember to take it eventually. Having your company buy back your vacation time isn’t a great idea as all it’s going to do is to increase the amount of taxes that you’re going to have to pay. Besides that, buy back vacations is an expense, and we all understand how much most companies want to keep all expenses to a minimum.

The only exception to taking vacations is if you are in the same situation I was in about 5 years ago. Is your little station or company about to be swallowed by the corporate whale? Are you concerned that you may not survive the transition and wind up as fish food (or worse)? Then by all means stack up your vacation weeks, so that those greedy pirates will have to make your buyout package that much more lucrative. The drawback to be aware of is that if the new owners do decide to keep you on, you’ll have that much extra time to take off or lose, all the while impressing your new bosses with what a good job you can do. It can be done, as I’ve done it, but believe me when I say that it’s not easy and there are drawbacks to having an extreme amount of vacation time... and of course if your wife is anything like mine, she’ll ensure that you take every minute of it off!

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