JUST about every time I plan a vacation, I worry that I won't be able to go. You can't leave, my boss might say, because we're just too busy to spare you. (In that case, I think indignantly, they'd better reimburse me for the plane ticket and the hotel room.)
Maybe this isn't really a fear, but a fantasy -- that I'm too valuable for the company to get along without me for even a week. Well, clearly that's not the case, because I've always been allowed to go.
Other people's vacations can make me anxious, too, because I often have to fill in when they're away. Come to think of it, I have to fill in for a colleague next week. So, as peak vacation season begins, it's time to worry at least a little about those left behind.
Employees should try to practice good pre-vacation hygiene -- by doing as much of their work in advance as possible, and making sure that their replacements have the tools and knowledge to hold down the fort.
But, ultimately, it's up to supervisors to set vacation policies that are fair and cause the least amount of disruption. That's the view of Jay Jamrog, senior vice president of research for i4cp (short for Institute for Corporate Productivity), a research firm based in Seattle.
Did you just find out today that a co-worker will be gone this week and you need to take over for her? That's poor planning. Too many managers wait until the last minute to start approving vacations because they have other things on their minds, Mr. Jamrog said.
Vacations should be agreed upon far in advance as part of a team effort, he said. That way, managers can find out as early as possible if too many people want to take the same weeks off -- a particular danger during the holidays and the summer -- and seek a solution.
Suppose that four people in the same small department want to take off the first two weeks in August, he said. It's the manager's job to decide that two of them will have to take the last two weeks of August instead -- and "hopefully this would have been done in January," Mr. Jamrog said.
In many industries, certain times of the year are off limits for vacations. The tax preparer who asks to take the first two weeks of April off will be laughed out of the office. When scheduling vacations, "protect your business interests, but in an equitable manner," said Richard I. Greenberg, a lawyer for Jackson Lewis, a law firm that specializes in employment issues. If you have to turn down someone's request for a particular vacation week, try to give that person first choice another time, he said.
An employee's perception that a vacation policy is unfair can lead to a sense of distrust and a lack of commitment, he warned. It's a feeling that can fester, and possibly even add fodder to a discrimination suit, he said.
Vacation policies should be consistent and clearly communicated, said Margaret Fiester, operations manager for the H.R. Knowledge Center at the Society for Human Resource Management. Sometimes it may be best to set up a bidding system in which employees submit vacation requests by a certain deadline, so that managers can accurately project staffing levels, she added.
Deciding vacations on the basis of seniority is one way to try to be fair, but that can also be hard on a new employee who must forgo a summer vacation with school-age children, or a homesick worker who can't travel to see his family for the holidays. Still, a vacation policy based on seniority has the advantage of being clear. If a policy is unclear, and managers appear to be granting time off inconsistently, it can create the impression that they are playing favorites, Mr. Jamrog said.
It's also a manager's job to ensure that employees are properly trained to fill in for vacationing colleagues, he said. Present a vacation as a way for workers to develop new skills, and reward them for stepping in, he advised. "You can't feel like you're punishing your employees because someone is taking time off," he said.
MORE than once, I've seen workers excel in their fill-in roles and receive promotions because they had proved they could handle more responsibility. So try to view a colleague's vacation as an opportunity, rather than an occasion for worry or resentment. Managers can go a long way toward furthering this view by allowing time for training.
And if you've been lucky enough to go to the beach, or to a European capital, be sure to express gratitude to the people who filled in for you. Because probably not too long from now, they will be off on their own vacations, and you will be the employee who is left behind.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.