FCW Forum | People

Give yourself a break

Whether long or short, vacations help diligent workers stay that way

Summertime and the livin’ is easy — for some. It’s not so easy for federal workers, especially in these economic times.

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With economic recovery and swine flu high on the list of priorities, along with wars in two countries and new cybersecurity threats, this year might go down in the books as the busiest ever. 

In some agencies, many employees are tied to their desks, almost literally unable to step away until they complete projects. In other agencies, it might still be business as usual. But new leaders are settling in and launching new directions.

Even Congress is feeling the heat, contemplating delaying its August break to allow legislators to complete work. Finishing health care reform and federal employee benefit changes, such as paid family leave, are among lawmakers’ challenges. 

In the midst of all that, it might seem almost sacrilegious to suggest taking a vacation. But even though you might not think you can take time away from your important job or that you can’t afford to do so, forgoing vacation can make everything worse.

Here’s a smart way to do it: Take shorter vacations, but take several of them. A long weekend or a couple of added days off can give you time to gain some perspective and refresh.

On the other hand, if you can take time, consider a volunteer vacation, something many federal workers do. It combines public service with exotic travel. Feds who volunteer have traveled to South America or Africa to help villagers build homes or gone to stateside communities, such as those Hurricane Katrina demolished in 2005, to help rebuild.
Airlines and hotels are already slashing prices to encourage fall and winter travel. If not this summer, consider a time of the year when things will slow down, even just a bit, for a longer vacation. Plan ahead now for that time and let people know.

Of course, if you are thinking of retiring at the end of the year, it is better to save that vacation time until then. You can have your farewell party, take your vacation leave, and set your actual retirement to the date when your paid leave has been used.

Having things go smoothly when you are gone is a test of your leadership. It is also a test of continuity of operations and can help in succession planning. A vacation can also help you build stronger relationships with your staff by delegating authority to them. Being clear and detailed in your instructions will help.

If you did manage to get away this summer, did you stay connected?  Although that can keep you in touch, it will also defeat the purpose of taking time off. Really getting away means going off-line.

You have enough stress when you are at work. You don’t need to take stress with you when you go away. If something important occurs, trust me, someone will take care of it. 

So go ahead, take a break. You deserve it.

About the Author

Judith Welles is a retired federal employee who has also worked in the private sector. She lives in Bethesda, Md.


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