A Springtime Reprise from the “Double Secret” Handbook for bad Executives

The weather is finally starting to break. It’s been a long, cold and dreary winter – at least here at the office of the Corporate Cynic. The birds are chirping, the trees are budding and the tulips are in bloom. Thoughts turn to making those well deserved vacation plans. But before you get too excited about that respite from the daily grind, remember that there are those with “other” agendas.

I’ve decided to reprise a post from last summer that was catagorized under The “Double Secret” Handbook. Let’s see what some of your “leaders” might have in mind for you this summer.

Summertime Reading from the “Double Secret” Handbook for bad Executives
August 3, 2007

The security guard found a stack of travel brochures in the executive parking lot. He was shocked when he found this chapter of the handbook in the pile. He immediately turned it over to me for review. I swore him to secrecy.

Chapter 2 Ration that Pesky Vacation

Just when you thought that there were no more ways to squeeze that last of drop blood out of your staff, we’ve contrived a fiendishly clever method to achieve just that. The best part of it all is that you can point to company policies as being the villain here. It’s the best of all worlds.

What policies could be so useful to an executive who needs to impress their superiors with cost controls, instantaneous responses to their insatiable need for information, adherence to ever-changing deadlines and a high level of uninterrupted productivity? Why the vacation policies! It’s the Human Resources department’s fault that you’re strapped with having to deal with the cost and nuisance of staff being away from work on “vacation.” Employees are paid to work and not to be absent for such a non-value added activity. HR is the group that determined your staff members were due this silliness as a company benefit. They also came up with a variety of rules and policies regarding vacations. So whatever you have to do to manipulate those policies to get the results you want is really HR’s problem and not yours.

It’s an expensive proposition to keep additional staff to cover for those who are away on these boondoggles. You need to trim your budget to score points with the top brass. What about all those emergency requests, revised deadlines and meetings that arise constantly and out of the blue? You can’t disappoint your superiors by telling them that John or Betty is on vacation and the report or meeting will have to be delayed or postponed. You certainly can’t be expected to cover those contingencies yourself. You’re an executive after all and you wouldn’t even know how to get the actual work done to do it anyway. So let’s get down to the business of administering those vacation policies – the way you decide to interpret them anyway.

We all know that that the more tenured the employee, the more vacation time they are entitled to. It makes sense to rid your staff of all of the old-timers that have amassed a high level of vacation eligibility and replace them with new hires. Who cares about experience and knowledge. The veterans don’t need to impress anyone. You do.

So what if employees are told in offer letters, new hire orientations, or handbooks that they are eligible for paid vacations. We’ll bet that there’s a policy indicating that paid time off must be scheduled around the company and/or department’s requirements. Find that policy and keep it handy.

Since you’re in charge of your department, you’ll decide those requirements. They are quite simple actually: When you’re in the office, the staff needs to be there to support you. When you’re not in the office, they need to be there to cover for you.

Start with the managers and staff employees that report directly to you. These folks are always malleable enough to be convinced that scheduling their own vacations is a big no-no. They must be both openly and tacitly discouraged from doing so. These employees always feel a certain loyalty and responsibility to the company. They enjoy feeling needed and indispensable. They’d like to identify themselves with the executive team and many believe that by constantly giving their all, they’ll reap some reward down the road. They also fear for their positions. They have families to feed and mortgages to pay. This loyalty and fear needs to be exploited. They must be made to feel as though the company can’t do without them for even a week here or a week there – and certainly not for two weeks in a row. Use your powers of persuasion to discourage any thoughts of even trying to string two or three vacation days together. They must be subtly pressured and cajoled into believing that the company’s needs outweigh their own. Remember, if there is a “use it or lose it” vacation policy, once the magic anniversary date rolls around, they’ll lose any of that time they had coming. There will be no massive vacation accrual to deal with next year. If anyone gripes, feign some concern and then simply forget about it.

If they must be out for a day, be sure to jot it down so that your response to their next request might go something like, “Another vacation day? It seems like you were just off. How many vacation days have you taken already? I’ll have to think about that. Are you sure you really need to take off? We have blah, blah, coming up. Will you be ready? We really depend on you. OK (sigh), if you must.” It’s a guilt trip/ego boost/power play combo that puts the onus on them to consider all of those feelings about themselves, their responsibilities and their paychecks. They’re probably good, honest and caring people. We’ll bet you get the results you’re looking for out of 99% of them.

We all know what your thinking. What if your company is in one of those states that mandates employees be allowed to carryover or even (gulp!) be paid for accrued and unused vacation days? What if your company has such a policy even though not mandated by law? No Problem. Just fall back on the policy that allows you to schedule their vacations around the department’s requirements.

Start forcing you direct reports to take individual vacation days (or even “vacation hours”) when it suits your needs. If you know that tomorrow will be a day without any pressing requests, command them to take the day off as a vacation day. In fact, right after the next scheduled morning meeting might be a great time to order some staff out for the rest of the day as a half-day of vacation. Always make it sound like it’s a reward and your doing them a big favor. So what if it’s a Tuesday or Thursday afternoon. Work it right and you can eat up all of their vacation time without even a hiccup in productivity. If anyone carps about it, point to the policies and remind them that they work in a “fast paced environment” with “ever changing priorities.” No one will be able to say that they weren’t given the opportunity to use all of their vacation time. These are company policies. Your hands are tied.

Most importantly – always ensure that any task or work not performed while the lollygaggers are away is made up after hours or on weekends. Your direct reports are exempt from overtime. It won’t be a ding to your budget and they’ll learn the lesson of being away from work during the week.

In time, you’ll see a trickle down effect as managers who report to you begin to believe that what you’ve instigated is what the company wants. They will follow your lead. If not out of loyalty, they’ll do it to make everyone else suffer. Morale Schmorale! You won’t be around for more than another year or two anyway. Let someone else pick up the pieces after you’ve moved on.

Keep in mind that you’ve done everyone a favor here. You’ve kept costs down and productivity up. If your company has a policy of holding over or paying employees for lost vacation time, you’ve saved even more cost and administrative time and effort. The employees will have no vacation time to “lose” because of your efforts to ensure that all of it has been “used.” You’ve saved your staff the expense of hotels, gas, theme park tickets, airfares etc. They should actually thank you. But that’s OK. You can deal with their ingratitude.

That was a lot of work but well worth it. We see that you must attend the annual budget meeting in Orlando, FL this August. Hmmm, your kids will still be out of school and you need a well deserved rest after all of this executive decision-making. The stress and pressure of having to deal with all of these policies and rules is taking a toll on your psyche. Why not tack on some extra time in Orlando? Maybe a week or even two. Grab the frau and the kiddies and head on down. Hell, the company is picking up part of the tab anyway. Your department will be covered. You need a break.


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