why group brainstorming doesn’t work, you’re leaving too many vacation days unused, and more

Over at the Fast Track by QuickBase today, I take a look at several big work-related stories in the news right now: the problems with group brainstorming, the hundreds of millions of vacation days we leave unused each year, and more. You can read it here.

{ 98 comments… read them below }

  1. AdAgencyChick*

    Poll: How do you manage your leave if you have PTO (not sick time and vacation) and a strict no-rollover policy?

    My current company is the first I’ve worked at with this arrangement. I personally prefer PTO to separate sick/vacation buckets since I don’t get sick often, but on the other hand I hate that because there’s no rollover, I need to make a guess about whether I’ll get sick in December or not, when deciding what days I want to take earlier in the year.

    My previous agency did it better IMO (PTO bank with up to 5 days rollover allowed; any rolled-over days had to be taken in the first 3 months of the new year). Right now I’m leaving only a 1-day window for possible illness, because I really don’t like leaving days on the table.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      Do you get the full amount at the beginning of the year, or do you also have to accrue it?

      I’ve worked at a place that had the PTO combined and very limited rollover, and we also accrued it. We were allowed to go slightly in the hole. But I had to get special permission to keep and roll over a larger amount, so I could go on a February vacation. I didn’t like the way it worked.

      1. Me*

        That’s what we do, except annoyingly, our year ends in June so the rollover only leaves you with a small amount of time for summer travel. For people with families, that’s rough if they want to take an extended trip when kids are out of school. Or if you don’t have kids but want to go on a longer vacation–and you still need some banked time in case of illness, etc. We do get to go in the hole, but then you have to earn it back before it starts accruing again.

        1. Me*

          Forgot to add–and you get people who didn’t take their leave scrambling to use it all up by year-end, and then a lot of people are out of the office all at once. :P

    2. Charlotte, not NC*

      I get sick like clockwork (severe URI every time the seasons change, thanks allergies!) so it’s abnormally easy for me to figure this out, but I track my time off over several years and then plan for the average. There’s only so much predicting the future you can do.

    3. Kyrielle*

      I don’t have this policy to work under.

      But thinking about it, I’d – assuming the workload allowed it! – schedule myself a 1-week stay-cation the last week of December.

      If I got sick, I’d cancel part or all of it accordingly.

      But I can see that being acceptable only if the stay-cation is acceptable in the first place.

    4. Roscoe*

      Are you not allowed to take time off at the end of the year? Why not just take your last however many days right before it ends

      1. NW Mossy*

        For my team, taking extended vacation in Q4 is generally a no-go – it’s our busy season and we need all hands on deck to get through the work. I’ll approve a day or two here and there, but a week or more makes covering the higher work volume almost impossible and it’s unfair to those who are at work. My team knows this and plans accordingly, but I have a lot of long-servers with tons of PTO so they can end up in a scenario where they lose their days because they exceed the rollover cap.

        I do what I can to make the busy season less hectic and smooth the work over the course of the year, but the biggest issue is that the overwhelming majority of our clients have a calendar year fiscal year. Not going to be able to do much about that!

      2. AdAgencyChick*

        December is often a busy time in the agency world, since clients often have use-it-or-lose-it budgets that turn over on January 1. So it’s not a viable solution for people to take large blocks at the end of the year. One or two can get away with it, but not lots of people at once.

        I’m a pretty obsessive planner type, so I used a lot of my PTO bank in the first half of the year (but still have enough left that I’m wondering how to allocate in November and December in case I get sick). Despite reminders from me, some of my direct reports are not so careful about planning their PTO, so we’ve been outright telling people to take blocks in September and October so the place isn’t a ghost town in December (and so I don’t also have to say no to requests, which I hate doing).

    5. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

      I’d leave a week for December, assuming you can take off then. I’m also not a fan of the no rollover policy. I like to have plenty of days in reserve.

    6. BRR*

      That’s tough (and in my opinion a terrible policy). I’d probably look historically at how many sick days I have taken in previous years and plan for something in that ballpark amount and leave 2 or possibly 3. What is not applicable for everybody is that a lot of my vacation days are used for staycations so I imagine I would just rearrange if need be. Possibly saving 1 or 2 days as end of year vacation days and can just work those if need be.

    7. Parfait*

      I save a couple of unscheduled PTO days in case of illness, and if I don’t need them, then I take them in the last week of December. However that only works if you’re in a job like mine where coverage doesn’t really matter.

    8. H.C.*

      In your scenario, I will probably use all of my PTO days throughout the year, and just save some extra $$ to make up the cost of a non-paid leave if I do get sick in December.

      And if I don’t get sick in December, that can be a self-imposed holiday bonus.

    9. SirTechSpec*

      Ugh. PTO and no rollover sounds like a terrible policy. Ours allows limited but significant rollover (I’ve never approached the year-end cap), which is good, because I get sick fairly often and wouldn’t be at all comfortable with having no cushion.

  2. Bwmn*

    The stipend for use of vacation days makes so much sense to me. As someone sitting on a pile of vacation days that will definitely not be used by the end of the year (and can be rolled over, so they’re not going to be lost) – there are a few reasons I’m not using them all, and one of them is money. While an occasional long weekend “stay-cation” is appealing, it’s not something where I’m going to take a full week off. However, that extra $500 opens up thinking of “hey, maybe X or Y is something that’s now more affordable and worth pursuing”.

    I will also say, that I think another huge factor on use of vacation time the availability of family and friends to travel. Having generous vacation days and disposable income to travel is part of it, but for people where their partner, family members, friends, etc. are more constrained be funds and vacation days – it can be tricky. Traveling alone, taking time off to hang out at home – at some point the larger issues of Americans not taking vacation days is a larger social issue, not just an individual organization’s policies.

    1. NonProfit Nancy*

      I chronically lose vacation time – it doesn’t roll over – and the stipend issue would be enough for me to make a change! Part of it is I have a lot of (possibly self directed? Or possibly external?) guilt for being gone during important periods – and guess what, all periods magically seem important when I want to take them off. I’m working on it. But the stipend would make me feel like the company seriously expected me to use all the time they give me, which is not at all how I feel now.

      1. nofelix*

        Yeah I feel a lot of companies encourage employees to never take time off by structuring their work around the assumption they’ll be there 9-5 every weekday. Of course you feel guilty about taking vacation when it conflicts with your core responsibilities.

    2. Me*

      Yeah, I’d love to get a stipend for using it. Not that I need any encouragement to take off! But still. Would be nice.

    3. Lily Rowan*

      I took a week-long staycation this year, and it was great! I did it because my job went to a strict use-or-lose, and I’m not trying to lose my vacation, but I wasn’t that hopeful about staying home for a week. So I planned a bunch of stuff — lunch dates, a day trip, projects around the house, and plenty of time just relaxing. I really liked it.

      Just one person’s experience….

    4. Jennifer*

      Well, I leave vacation days unused because (a) they don’t expire until I’ve build up an enormous load of them, which I’ve never done, and (b) I feel like I need to leave at least some of them free in the event that I have car trouble or some other emergency thing that I have to use the time for. And yeah, the person I travel with most had their vacation hours cut to almost nothing this last year and she probably can’t go anywhere for at least another calendar year (if that).

      I am taking two weeks off at the end of the year because that’s the only time I can be out of the office without total disaster hitting (this year has been nothing but stress). I don’t necessarily want to “staycation” because those just feel like such a waste, but that may just end up being what I end up doing.

    5. boop the first*

      Good point. My spouse has a ridiculous amount of vacation, but luckily has a family that arranges camping every summer. The rest of his vacation is spread out randomly and he just sits at home alone. Me, I have zero vacation and pretty much no life or control over anything, so I’ve never gone anywhere or done anything. Traveling (unless he wants to travel alone) is a pipe dream. Even spending a holiday weekend with family? Not for me. He can go visit distant family for a holiday weekend, but he’ll have to be alone for it. I get to feed the cats and eat over the sink, I guess. There’s definitely an effect.

  3. J*

    I’d LOVE to use all my vacation time–I can never get it approved though. We have a minimum amount of staffing that is required to be at work, and that’s exactly what is scheduled (and most of the time we have to run overtime just to get to the minimum). This year and last, every single request I made to use vacation time was denied. Every single one.

      1. College Career Counselor*

        Comment was eaten–I had a similar question. Are you told to take only one day every other week until your allotment is gone, or does your manager have any suggestions about how you could take vacation time (did you lose it, or does it roll over, and do they pay it out when you leave)?

      2. J*

        No, we’re too short-staffed for anyone’s time to be approved. It just rolls over. I have an enormous amount saved up.

        1. Miss Betty*

          Will they pay it out when you quit for a better job (because you’re preparing to do that, right?) or will you just lose all of it?

          1. J*

            It’ll get paid out when I retire (and I’m counting the days). My job doesn’t exist in the civilian world.

    1. College Career Counselor*

      Did your manager have any suggestions for taking vacation in the future? Or is it “you can only take vacation on alternate Wednesdays in February, April, June, August, and October “? Because that’s not really the way to get any significant time off, even if you wind up using your allotment of vacation time, one day at a time.

      1. J*

        Manager has just said that since we’re so short-staffed, no leave will be approved until we get more staffing (which is above him and out of his control), which is demoralizing because training someone new takes years until they’re certified.

          1. J*

            Counting the days to retirement. My job doesn’t exist in the civilian world so I don’t really have anywhere else to go.

            1. Amy the Rev*

              …does your work involve spaceships? Trying to think of non-military (because there are private contractor jobs in the security field) governmenty jobs that don’t have any civilian crossover.

    2. Artemesia*

      Your compensation is being stolen; time to look for another job or organize a push back. This is like denying medical coverage when you are sick even though you have insurance.

      1. Girasol*

        That’s what I always thought. A standing “We’re too busy right now to approve vacation” is like saying “We can’t afford to pay you what we promised.”

    3. BRR*

      That’s ridiculous (which I’m sure you knew). I don’t think I could go two years without taking a vacation day. I’m with addlady that not approving any vacation is going to drive people away and intensify the staffing issue.

    4. Bob Barker*

      I’m in a system where my vacation days accrue fast and max out, after which I lose them. I’m also in a state where vacation days are compensation, so must be paid out when you quit. Right now the only way I’m able to take any vacation days at all is by saying, “Look, I HAVE to take a day or else I lose it.”

      (Which would be no big deal during a single busy season, but it’s effectively true for me year-round. Hence why I’m constantly at the max for vacation days, and constantly in danger of losing them.)

      My boss has not yet got to the point where he offers me cash in hand to replace a lost vacation day, but I’m a little worried that’s the direction we might be headed!

  4. Anonymous Educator*

    This has definitely been my experience with group brainstorming. One or two ideas usually rise to the top too quickly (either through extremely vocal and pushy people or through a moderator latching on to something she likes). I’ve found, in general, group work (whether in work or in school) to be extremely inefficient and specifically to the detriment of those of us who prefer to work alone. And preferring to work alone doesn’t mean you can’t work well with others or be a pleasant person—you just recognize how to be most efficient and productive with your time.

    1. NonProfit Nancy*

      I heard the point about how the high performing people were more likely to swallow back their ideas, too – especially if you’ve already made one or two, you’re not going to keep rolling if nobody else is equally enthusiastic.

      1. JaneB*

        And you often get told to shut up, stop being pushy, let others speak… “play nicely” just doesn’t suit my working style for brainstorming (verbal vomiting, and “keep talking til I see what I come up with”) – I hate group work a LOT

        1. Mike C.*

          Seriously, I hate this crap. Then there’s all the paternalistic padding language to indicate that every idea that everyone comes up with is incredibly awesome and so on. Ugh.

    2. Jillociraptor*

      Totally. For brainstorming to be effective, it actually needs to be structured, not a loose free-for-all of talking. Structures like individual brainstorming –> pair share –> group share, or adding post-its with ideas to the wall and then consolidating/seeking themes, can be really helpful and generative. I have a strong bias for action or resolution, so I’m definitely one of those people grabbing the first sensible idea and starting a project plan. It’s helpful for me to be pushed to consider alternatives, but unstructured talking does the exact opposite!

    3. Camellia*

      Ideally, brainstorming is done by a trained facilitator who 1) doesn’t make remarks like, “Good idea!” as she writes them on the flip chart or board, and 2) doesn’t allow others to comment on anything offered as she records them, and 3) doesn’t allow any discussion to take place on any of the ideas until the brainstorming session is declared closed.

      Then the group BRIEFLY discusses each idea and decides whether to put it on the short list. Then the short list is ranked, with perhaps a bit more discussion. Then the top two or three ideas are more fully explored, until one idea is decided upon by the team.

      Ideally the facilitator is not on the team and often does the best job when she doesn’t even know much about what the team does or how to do it. Her job is to retain control of the team and the situation and make sure the team accomplishes the goals it outlined for the session.

      Yes, I was trained as a facilitator decades ago when Total Quality Management (TQM) was all the rage and we were really able to make this work! I have to say, I wish we still used trained facilitators; too many meetings go off the rails.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        You’re saying “ideally,” which sounds awesome, but I’ve never encountered the conditions you’re describing. Keep in mind that the vast majority of “group brainstorming” sessions fall into all of the pitfalls the article points out.

    4. Emma*

      Group brainstorming is actually one of the cases where having someone play devil’s advocate/shoot holes in any idea is useful – as long as it’s not the same person, or same couple of people, each time, because then you end up with them being sidelined as not team players.

      Avoiding groupthink is surprisingly hard, since it does generally require at least one person to vocally go against their peers.

    5. Snazzy Hat*

      In college, there was a particular class I loved except for the in-class group work. Those activities, usually a handful of questions to answer, always made me look slow because I would analyze a question while someone in my group — mind you, these were randomized — had already decided on a definitive answer and the rest of the group accepted it. I still remember once instance where there was enough uncertainty in the group that someone asked me what I thought the answer could be. Jolted out of concentration, I replied with something like, “huh? Sorry, I’m still on the first question.” The rest of the group was on #4.

  5. socrescentfresh*

    My employer offers sabbaticals to anyone who’s worked here for 10 years and has saved up a certain amount of vacation time to offset some of the sabbatical pay. So we have a clear incentive to hoard it. However, a new rule caps vacation time that can be accrued, so the hoarding is only incentivized to a point.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I would totally take a sabbatical if I had a way to pay my bills in the meantime. :(

      I tried to do that with my last trip to London–the reason for it was to attend a concert with friends, but I spent a lot of time in museums and in the British Library taking notes for a book. Sort of a busman’s holiday. ;) Sadly, it was only a couple of weeks. A sabbatical in the UK for six months or even a year would be FANTASTIC.

      1. Elfie*

        Elizabeth – maybe we can Life Swap? I’d love to go back to Canada, and you’d love to come over to the UK. You can have my job, my husband, and (reluctantly) my cats, and I’ll have your job and whatever else you’re offering (you can sweeten the deal if you throw in some Tim Hortons!). Six months, a year – it’s got to be do-able!

  6. Not Karen*

    I’d love money for using up all my vacation time. Maybe then I could actually afford to go on vacation.

  7. LawCat*

    I hoard my PTO because I live in fear of unemployment even with a relatively secure job. I graduated college in a recession (early 2000s) and then graduated law school in a recession (Great Recession). I’m in a state that requires the employer to pay out leave when an employee leaves. The longer I hoard my PTO, the better the cushion I will have for catastrophe (because I will have not only more hours, but the hours become more valuable dollar-wise as I earn raises.) Last year, I took two weeks off for the first time in 5 years and dipping into my leave made me nervous. (There were some use it or lose it hours I did use those, but I don’t get those kind of hours anymore with my current job). I have almost 5 weeks-worth of hours right now. There is a cap on leave accrual. Once I hit the cap, I would start using more leave. But for now, even with a supervisor that would encourage leave, I would minimize using it.

    1. Not Karen*

      Yeah, that “bonus” upon leaving is nice. I also have 5 weeks accrued; our max is 6.

      At LastJob the max accrual was 12.5 weeks, which I think was so high that it encouraged people to hoard it instead of use it.

    2. NW Mossy*

      You’re fortunate in that you get your PTO paid out if you leave! I know that my company only does that for people retiring – if you quit, any accrued-but-unused PTO goes *poof*.

    3. Sparkly Librarian*

      YES. This was precisely my attitude in my last job (private sector, 8 years, junior level), and when I left that job I got about 6 weeks of accrued vacation paid out. (The cap was 8 weeks — twice my annual allotment.) I work in the public sector now and feel more secure, plus we get our fair share (perhaps more) of holidays. I’m not as likely to hoard vacation, but now I weigh taking vacation days and sick days against being able to use them during future parental leave. I haven’t been here long enough to worry about caps; right now I have less than a week in each bucket.

    4. Jesmlet*

      In my last job, you had to give 4 weeks notice or else you would forfeit the right to have your leave paid out. Of course they didn’t tell anyone this and we found out only when someone in our department quit and gave 2 weeks notice instead. This is one of many reasons why they are my former employer and not still my current.

    5. H.C.*

      Yeah, I banked 10-12 weeks at OldJob for the purpose of that “leave bonus”; and actually gave myself a month off before starting current job, which was niiiiice.

      Alas, current job makes it much harder to bank hours (almost all unused time off is paid out at end of the year), but I guess it’s makes for a nice end-of-year bonus and/or actually forces me to actually take the time off.

    6. Eddie Turr*

      I graduated from journalism school in 2010, so I’m always uneasy using more than a week of my vacation in the first half of the year… and it feels icky to use all of it, even though I’m not a workaholic by any definition. All my jobs have been “use it or lose it,” so I can’t hoard it too much, but I would never just take a week off in January because I’d need that money if I got laid off in February.

  8. Wendy*

    Group brainstorming depends very much on the group, the group members’ relationships, and the purpose of the brainstorming. If you do it as a management-HR-I-love-to-read-pop-psych-garbage activity that’s set up like a board game, of course it’s not going to work. If you’ve got a bunch of smart people in the room and they like each other and work well together, then very often in the course of brainstorming the responsible person recognizes what he or she has forgotten to deal with that’s key and what direction this thing needs to take.

    That’s why assigning credit for ideas in science is so difficult: after the fact, after a good brainstorming session, it’s very hard to tell what portions of what ideas came from which people. Generally one person will say something key but deeply incomplete and someone else will recognize the value in it and take it in some other, much more fruitful direction, and yes, that person had the idea, but wouldn’t have had it without the thing the first person said.

    1. JaneB*

      True! My reply above assumed it was imposed group working rather than “we choose to jam with ideas together and we all have high levels of trust in and respect for each other” group working!

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        I was going to post something similar. I’ve had some very productive group brainstorming sessions and some very unproductive ones. The key is trust. Trust that you won’t get mocked for a bad idea. Trust that credit for a good idea will be attributed to the right person or the right team. Trust that people will listen with an open mind.

    2. AcademiaNut*

      Although in science, it works best when there is a focussed idea that people are commenting on – Person A has an idea for a project they’re working on, and asks some colleagues for a discussion, presents their ideas, and the other people comment and ask questions and make suggestions and pick holes in it. This can be really, really effective.

      I’ve repeatedly ended up in meetings, though, where people are expecting to come up with ideas for viable larger projects via committee. This sort of project is common in my field – large, international collaborations pooling resources and getting big chunks of data for a major project, the processed data from which will often become a public resource later.

      But the discussion meeting approach to developing a project like this never, ever works. People present half-thought out ideas for things they think might be neat, there’s some discussion, and it stops. Lather, rinse and repeat. The way you get a big project like this is by someone, generally a few fairly senior people with a lot of experience, coming up with a idea that they, personally, are willing to devote a signifiant fraction of the next five years of their research to, and going ahead and running it. They discuss it with colleagues and collaborators to build up a critical mass of interested expertise, and write grant proposals with their input, and get the money and use of facilities to get the data, and then hire postdocs to reduce the data, and invite other well established researchers to join, and so on.

  9. Barney Barnaby*

    I once worked for a manager whose attitude on vacation was “Take it whenever you want, but you’ll have to work twice as hard to make up for it when you get back.” Vacation could be rolled with manager approval, which was not forthcoming. His direct reports took about a quarter of the possible vacation time; he took most of his and convinced his manager to let him roll his unused time.

    Like a lot of things in life, such small, but grating, issues were symptomatic of larger problems.

  10. SRB*

    Eh, getting to a zero balance of PTO would make me uncomfortable, even though I have separate sick leave. After watching a friend’s hospitalization for something that could reasonably happen to anyone, and going negative on sick time plus two months of half-pay because he always ran his PTO to zero… I like to have at least a week cushion of PTO, plus whatever sick time I have. I could also see that anyone with a chronic condition that tends to flare up unexpectedly might also be uncomfortable using up all their PTO.

    1. Jennifer*

      Seconded. I don’t think it’s a great idea to use it up if you work somewhere where it doesn’t expire on you. (If it does, that’s another story.)

  11. Mianaai*

    I’m in a collaborative scientific environment, and I find that group work is great, as long as everyone has a pre-defined role and the group is not too large. Brainstorming in a group of 3-5 can be very productive here, as everyone contributes based on their own expertise (or sometimes without the preconceptions that come with others’ backgrounds), but anything larger really is a terrible idea.

    1. dear liza dear liza*

      This. I often collaborate with colleagues, and almost always the end result is better for it. I know my own projects improve dramatically when I can bounce ideas off of someone. But the colleagues have to be interested and have similar values about the project; maybe that’s the disconnect in the research? I need to go look at the original study design now.

      1. JaneB*

        Collaboration isn’t the same as group brainstorming though

        Lord don’t I sound academic, come on everyone, “define your terms”….

        1. Mianaai*

          I think my point is that brainstorming can be effective in a small, carefully-cultivated group (and would be rolled in as part of collaboration) but when you put 10 people in a room and try to brainstorm it is generally not successful. So, brainstorming and group work have their place and can both be successful, but you have to be thoughtful when organizing it.

        2. dear liza dear liza*

          Busted! I was conflating collaboration with brainstorming. I did mean brainstorming, though: “what do you think we should do for this workshop?” conversations, with everyone contributing ideas.

      2. Emma*

        I think also, one thing that can throw off group brainstorming is if there’s a higher-up involved who people are (consciously or not) showing off for. (That sounds harsher than I mean it, but I cannot word today.)

        There are ways around that, but there is often that urge to look good to the boss, and that can turn what could’ve been productive brainstorming into either a game of oneupsmanship, everyone just enthusiastically agreeing with whatever they think the boss wants, or everyone stifling any dissent/”negativity” because they’re afraid it’ll make them look unproductive.

        1. AcademiaNut*

          Conversely, I’ve seen discussions come alive and sparkle with energy because of a very senior person who is really good at asking questions and encouraging really meaty discussion.

  12. Murphy*

    I’m glad I’ve never received any pushback for taking my vacation time. I can’t imagine not being able to take it when I wanted. (Working around important work deadlines, of course.)

    1. MissMaple*

      Yeah, it’s one of the reasons I’m looking to move on. I’d never gotten any push back until my current role, but here they’re very passive-aggressive about it. They won’t outright deny it, but they comment about missing whole weeks, about being early in your career and “making a good impression”, then mention smugly in meetings if someone is not there because they are taking scheduled days.

  13. zora*

    omg should I forward the article on brainstorming to my former boss/workplace? We used to have these insane multiple-day-all-day brainstorming “Strategic Planning Meetings” multiple times per year and it was the most painful, useless thing ever. After about 2 hours, everyone was just listing the same things we had said earlier or done the year before. Plus, it shouldn’t even have been called brainstorming, bc my boss would shoot down ideas immediately “No, that won’t work, moving on.” I basically just got to the point where I tried to speak as little as humanly possible, without being too obvious that I wasn’t speaking since there were only 5 of us in the room.

    Ugh, I am shuddering just thinking about it, it was so awful.

    But it would probably be too passive agressive to just email it to her without comment, right? {{eyeroll}}

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Emailing it without comment would be rude, yes. But you could email it with something like: “I found this article on the drawbacks of group brainstorming really interesting and I think it reflects some of the challenges we’ve encountered with our own brainstorming meetings.”

      1. zora*

        ooo, that’s good wording if I still worked with these people, thank you! But I think it would be too weird to reach out since I am no longer there. I really wish I had had this info back then!

  14. neverjaunty*

    I almost did a coffee take at the ‘nine out of ten managers’ thing – a classic example of people overreporting what they think are good behaviors rather than being honest.

    I love the stipend, but I don’t see how that would work at a company that was passive-aggressive or never allowed people to take leave. One former employer used to offer a benefit of paying for your gym membership, and it was a completely fake ‘perk’ because actually taking time to go to the gym would have been frowned on.

  15. ArtK*

    For #2, my company accountant pointed out that by letting the vacation expire I was effectively working for free. Cured me of letting that go.

  16. H.C.*

    While I like the idea of group brainstorming in general, in practice the activity is rather biased against introverts – like myself. So my ideas are prone to being dismissed because a Grumpy Gus or Debbie Downer is vocal in shooting it down, whereas I offered few words in defending my suggestions.

    However, I’ve learned to compensate for this by 1) coming in better prepared with evidence/sources for my ideas, so it’s not just an extrovert’s numerous words against my much fewer ones and 2) sending carefully considered & thought-out group emails about my suggestions shortly after the brainstorm, incorporating the input I’ve heard during the meeting as well.

  17. James*

    There’s a difference between what people SAY the encourage and what they DO encourage. If a manager says “They’re your vacation days; use them!” and then balks eve time you mention taking a day or two off, they don’t really encourage people to take time off. And the reality for many of us is that managers don’t want us taking time off. Most companies don’t have profit margins high enough to withstand the type of redundancy that full use of vacation would necessitate (when you’re on vacation someone else has to do your job, after all).

    I’m fortunate in that my PTO rolls over–I don’t lose it, unless I hit the upper limit (with two kids and a third on the way, not gonna happen!). And I like to leave about 80 hours in the bank. That’s two weeks that I know I’ll get paid for, come Hell or high water. And in a consulting career, you need that safety net–sometimes work just doesn’t happen for two weeks.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      There’s a difference between what people SAY the encourage and what they DO encourage. If a manager says “They’re your vacation days; use them!” and then balks eve time you mention taking a day or two off, they don’t really encourage people to take time off

      There’s also sometimes a difference between general corporate policies and manager’s managing of vacation time. If your general corporate policy says “We’ll pay you $500 if you use all your vacation days” but your boss won’t approve your vacation time, then your corporate policy is meaningless.

    2. neverjaunty*

      While I agree with your first sentences – if a company does not have profit margins high enough to withstand employees actually using their vacation, they’re stealing from their employees to stay in business. The company needs to either suck it up, not offer vacation time, or go out of business.

      Of course, by not offering vacation time, the company may be less able to compete with its rivals in hiring and retaining employees. That’s a choice the company needs to make. What isn’t appropriate is to deceive employees by offering benefits they won’t ever be able to (or allowed to) use. That’s no different than telling employees they are guaranteed an hourly wage and then paying them less.

      1. Mike C.*

        Suck it up indeed. After all, if times were tough it would be entirely inappropriate for the employer to dip into paychecks, right? Same thing with vacation time.

        1. James*

          While companies reducing salary may not be common (it’s not unheard of, particularly with less-skilled positions), it’s certainly common for companies to reduce payroll by firing people.

      2. SarahKay*

        But how accurate is the idea that a company doesn’t have the profit margins to withstand employees using their vacation? I’m in the UK, where it is now legally mandated that you get a minimum of 28 days (for full-time employees, pro-rataed for part-time ones) every year. Yes, this allowance can include the 8 public holidays each year, but that still leaves a minimum of 20 days that it is the company’s duty to ensure you take. This applies to all workers, regardless of company size. Undoubtedly there are companies that break the law and don’t do this, but nonetheless, we have tiny and huge companies that comply and don’t go bankrupt.
        To me it sounds like an excuse used by company owners to get richer at the expense of their staff.

        1. AcademiaNut*

          I think it’s often not so much a matter of simple profit margins as the work force.

          There seem to be a lot of employers who staff their business based on 100% availability – they have enough employees to handle work reasonably as long as no-one takes vacation or gets sick or takes parental leave. And when someone is away, the other employees are either scrambling to cover them, or the vacationing employee is faced with a pile of catch-up work on their return. If the employer offers 20 vacation days a year, that means they have to build in a 10% buffer of employee hours to account for the time that people are away. One system that seems to do this very well is teaching – school districts have a pool of substitute teachers that can be called in when a teacher is out sick, because coverage is absolutely needed, and can’t be provided by coworkers.

          Then there are the employers where they are understaffed and not hiring anyone more, so employees are being run ragged trying to keep up, and are being denied vacation because they don’t have staff. If it’s a private business and they can’t afford to hire more people, they’re probably not going to last all that long unless the labour market is so bad that their employees can’t find other jobs. Some employers (like non profits) can scrape by like this for years either because people are willing to be taken advantage of because they believe in the mission, or by limping along at lower than optimal efficiency as they constantly suck and in, chew up and spit out new employees. Or in the case of government hiring freezes, they’re not required to turn a profit, but aren’t able to keep up with the worth they should be doing, resulting in long waits for service, or poor service when it is provided.

          1. James*

            Another issue is lack of training. If I stop working for two weeks, the work doesn’t stop–I can put some of it on hold or arrange my schedule to minimize impacts, but unless I’m completely worthless to the company and defrauding them with every paycheck, my not being there affects the bottom line because my job isn’t getting done.

            If other people can do my job, however, it CAN get done. Not as efficiently, and it puts additional workload on those other people, but the inefficiencies are made up for by increased productivity upon my return, and in a healthy environment folks are typically willing to take on extra work on the premise that when it’s their turn those they have helped will help them (it’s call reciprocal altruism in biology).

            Unfortunately, I’ve worked with far too many people who were TERRIFIED that the company would realize they were replaceable, and therefore refused to let anyone learn what they did. These folks believed that by doing so they would become indispensable and the company couldn’t fire them. In reality, they just made life miserable for everyone else.

        2. James*

          It’s going to depend a lot on the company. A company that employs 10 people probably doesn’t have the capacity to grant 280 days off a year, and probably would run into trouble granting multiple people days off at once. A company that deals with highly technical issues can run into trouble if one person leaves for two weeks, and probably does lack the capacity to hire a second person, either because the workload doesn’t justify a full-time position or because the market value for such experts is beyond what the company can afford. For example, some of my relatives work in places with company nurses. They can’t afford multiple nurses, so when the company nurse is on vacation, sick, on jury duty, or whatever, they just really hope no one gets injured.

          There are ample scenarios for this to happen; fat cats smoking cigars lit from burning hundred-dollar bills plotting how they can crush the spirits of their employees isn’t the only way.

          1. SarahKay*

            But none of this changes the fact that in the European Union (EU) the minimum holiday that a company can grant is 20 days per year (pro-rataed for part-time employees). Yes, the UK makes that more generous, but if the whole of the EU can do at least 20 days per year then how can American companies really, truly, justify saying how impossible it is?

            1. Candi*

              You’re assuming that:

              1) All companies follow the law; that doesn’t happen anywhere;

              2) That employees never deny themselves vacation, either out of loyalty to the boss/company, or fear of losing their job;

              3) That the workers are taking blocks and not a day here and there, which is easier to deal with.;

              4) That companies -especially small ones- don’t fold when they try to comply.

              And even without these factors, it’s likely the non-vacationing workers are running at double speed to get things done.

              One thing to note about the law is it is fundamentally words; to turn it into something with power requires safety to report breakage, knowledge of the violation, and authority and ability to enforce. Real consequences are also important. If a link fails, what the law says and what the reality is start to drift.

    3. Jennifer*

      This is assuming there is even someone else around/left to do your job. We are on bare bones of people here, so I am reasonably assuming nobody will be doing my job when I’m gone. Hence why I am leaving during the only dead time of the year, I’ll have a smaller avalanche to deal with.

  18. Chaordic One*

    So far as I can tell, no one has commented on Question 3, What Accountability Really Means.

    As I’ve recounted before, back at Dysfunctional Teapots, Ltd., it meant my doing a an awful lot of followup, sending email reminders, phoning people to remind then and cajoling, nagging, and begging coworkers in other departments and branches to please get paperwork filled out appropriately and sent back to me. I found it very frustrating, time consuming (or maybe time-wasting would be a better description) and stressful. My supervisor was useless and hand no worthwhile suggestions on how to deal with the situation.

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