February 24, 2014

Vacation policies: we’re doing it right


One of the few perks of my current job was one that sounds good, but that I was pretty skeptical about. Unlimited vacation!

SURE… sounds great but I didn’t really like it because as a certified workaholic, when would I take that time off? It didn’t seem very likely.

A small part of me, the part that’s still insecure about stupid stuff like looking lazy for taking time off, wanted to insist on having 3 weeks totally off guaranteed instead of this weird yawning abyss of “unlimited” stuff. Probably so that I wouldn’t feel guilty for choosing to take time off.¬† And what is that about? Is it the ingrained need to have “budgets” for everything? That sounds irrational but think about it: if you don’t have set accepted norms, then socially speaking, there’s a compulsion to follow the crowd. If the crowd doesn’t take a week off, then you don’t take a week off.

Long term and from an objective perspective, with an unlimited days off policy, you wouldn’t get paid out at the end of your employment period for unused days. While I never relied on that, I always felt like that was a bit of a bonus for me since I could never really take my vacations anyway. At the end of one job, I took home a check for more than 300 unused vacation hours. That was delicious.

Over a year later, I’m now curious whether my skepticism’s panned out, so I decided to do an informal collection of data.

I went through our timeoff log, and took down the number of days that people logged as holidays, days off, or travel days (just semantics). I didn’t take down everyone’s time, just a representative cross section.

1. Days off that span weekends since we all work weekends regularly enough that we often notify each other when we AREN’T going to be available on the weekend. For example, if we were marked off from Monday through Sunday, that’s 6 days.
2. Federal holidays, same reason as above.
3. Days working from a place that’s not home or the office on the assumption that in a traditional office, you’d have to take that time off entirely.

Not counted:
Work from home days because location only matters to some of us and it’s not considered a free day.

An important detail: we all tend to be available during our holiday time anyway. If we’re totally offline, it’s not for more than a couple of days, we just reduce our online hours during “vacation”.

Given that we’re all, voluntarily, only partly off during these holidays, these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. Or a peck. But it is still really impressive to see that we are, in fact, really using our flexibility.

There are few reasons I think this works really well.

1. We’re all responsible adults. No one has to be nagged for anything, though some people will nag because it’s in their nature to do so ūüėČ
2. We recognize where our work intersects with or affects other people and we respect each other enough to take care of that work in a timely manner.
3. Most of us either had exceptionally strong, pre-existing working relationships with each other, or are really easygoing and don’t waste time on taking offense, taking things personally, or really, doing anything but getting the job done. This makes for an amazing work environment: no politics, very few arguments, even fewer meetings.
4. We’re still a small enough group that we simply don’t have the luxury of being or having deadweight.

I’m a convert and didn’t even know it ….



Granted, this could be because I made a pact to be open to taking time away. But topping the time off chart was totally unexpected.

I’ll be interested to see whether my numbers change when I can take the time off entirely, with full backup, because then that might start feeling excessive. Doing the math: When you boil it down, I probably work at 20-40% capacity while on vacation, so that works out to being “off” …¬† 36.9 days. Honestly? The way I work, I don’t think that’s at all excessive.

So two months “off”? I don’t even feel guilty. When I’m on, I’m ON. Sixteen hours a day on, if necessary, no complaints very little complaint. And when I’m off, well, until I have sufficient back up, I’m doing double duty working and vacationing at the same time. I prioritize and occasionally drop the non-critical stuff but I always, always get the job done.

I’m proud of myself for actually using the flexibility to be more present in our family lives, to do things we’ve never done before .

And you know what? This is the sort of thing that our work culture encourages. Get the job done, and do whatever you want otherwise: don’t be so stereotypically American that we only work hard and never play. In addition to all the above variables, no one really cares about when or how much time someone else is taking off because we make sure to cover the work and each other,¬† and that’s really what matters at the end of the day: getting the job done reasonably well, efficiently, and on time.

For all the other life-things that are difficult, in this, I’m a lucky woman.

As far as our budget goes, I can’t say this is a GOOD thing, our travel budget in 2013 was astronomical! But we won’t be doing that much travel all the time.¬† ūüôā

:: This is, bar none, the most generous and flexible policy I’ve ever encountered, in writing and in practice during my working years. Have you had better? How do you prefer your vacation days?

:: Bonus: What’s your dream vacation?

April 30, 2012

Career Life: Links and Love

I put on my hiring manager hat over at the Carnival of Personal Finance site and break down some of the less savory ways job applicants torpedo the job hunt.

Paranoid Asteroid sat on the interviewing panel for her coworker’s replacement and noted some of the same things. One of her examples that I didn’t note:

My ‚Äúfavorite‚ÄĚ applicant so far has been the one who emailed D, saying, “I don‚Äôt know much about [our company, our business, and our project], but I figured I‚Äôd throw my hat into the ring.‚ÄĚ

That’s another thing I found incredibly annoying from the perspective of having to sift through multiple resumes and applicants who really aren’t serious about the job. And those who are internally thinking that but don’t show it until they hit the interviewing room and waste all that time.

Thanks to Savvy Working Gal for a lovely bird’s eye view and breakdown of my recent promotion and the things I did to achieve it in How to Get a Promotion?¬† She includes some great links for further reading.

Janelle’s (@elleandish) home was featured at the EveryGirl. I loved this post focused on her decisions to buy her home, her career building and financial ability/stability that she learned and practiced to make the decision to build a beautiful home on a budget.

It’s not only gorgeous and bright, this is a great perspective on some of the reasons we save and budget: for a tangibly comfortable life within reason.

eemusings asks what your job means, and suggests how to get your mojo back if you’ve felt off your game lately.¬† No kidding, I’ve had more of those then not but frankly, I’ve just done a halfway decent job of hiding it except from the person I needed support from. That person just happened to see through my facade really easily.

April 24, 2012

Career Life: Securing the battlements for a promotion

As you may know, I was promoted this year.

It was a long road in getting there, and I thought I’d share some of the process.

Even though I had the advantage of knowing the job description when it went live, it was never a given that the job was mine. This was serious business. Sure, I could learn from someone else. But this was my team. And I¬†wasn’t prepared to let someone else be my boss, other than Boss.

I considered this a strategic battle and I prepared as such.

Stage One: Signal of Intent

Once the job was created, my mind was ticking. There was never a moment to just sit back and think about it so I kept the back of my mind in high-analysis mode for weeks about what I had to shore up before the interview.

Then, of course, I went over my resume about ten more times before I was satisfied, and started crafting a cover letter.

I hate writing cover letters.

One of the benefits of my job for this situation has been hiring and hiring a lot. I’ve read well over a thousand resumes and cover letters, and helped other people with theirs. It didn’t make writing mine easy, critiquing is always easier because of the mental distance, but it was easier. ¬†Once completed, rewritten, burnished, and rewritten again, I asked the favor of the eyes of a few respected expert resume and cover letter readers for feedback. *Interestingly enough, I wasn’t comfortable submitting my cover and resume until I had already started working my way through some of the areas I knew were weaknesses or lacking. There had to be truth in advertising as an internal candidate.

Stage Two: We Have Contact – The Interview

It was unfortunate timing that the process coincided with my Mom’s passing. My Powerpoint was half done and largely unpolished, my plan was still putty and I had to pull it all together while trying to stay on top of work. Jobs may be easier to get when you have one but the process is pretty painful.

Still. Eye on the ball: my team. ¬†(I’m not possessive, oh no.)

Once the interviews were scheduled, the panel was set. I knew who my audience would be and what perspectives/departments/concerns might be represented in our conversations. From there, I tailored my presentation.

Honestly, despite carefully dressing (totally out of character for our culture, predictably earning me a few jibes), an excellent Powerpoint tailored to be inserted into each conversation with individuals rather than having them each sit through the same thing, I felt that my performance was inconsistent.

I was not in my best form that day (or any other day that month – holidays, new¬†life, without Mom were basically hell). The most important person to sway on the panel was very insistent to sticking to a script and after a full day swapping gears between work and interviews, I simply didn’t keep framing the conversation as I should have.

It took about four days before I got past post-interview jitters and unnecessary recapping.

Stage Three: Immersion and Negotiations (pre and post offer)

Post-interview, I immediately immersed myself in salary negotiation and interview technique writings and videos. It didn’t matter if I wasn’t at that stage yet. I was still, in essence, at that stage. I needed to be in the right mindset. It was the next best thing to practice and to achieve a sense of control and calm.¬†

As well, without practice, all of the following would feel impossible. It would feel “easier said than done.” I simply couldn’t leave anything to chance or hope, so analysis, strategic planning and more planning it was!

The interesting thing about negotiating with this particular organization and the people involved is that while they certainly don’t make it seem like the job itself will be rescinded simply for the asking, they have been less that open to negotiating itself. Or that initiating and continuing the process for more than a weak gesture means you’re “hard-nosed.”¬† Nossiree. Know what I know?

This is business.

“When people with hiring authority think of winners, they think of people like them who live and breathe this business thing. ¬†They negotiate things as a matter of course: that is a major portion of the value they bring to the company. ¬†Volunteering a number when asked says the same thing to people with hiring authority that flunking FizzBuzz says to an engineer: this person may be a wonderful snowflake in other regards, but on the thing I care about, they‚Äôre catastrophically incompetent. ¬†It will also cause them to retroactively question competencies they‚Äôd previously credited you with.”¬† Patrick of Kalzumeus, in his 7000 words on Salary Negotiations¬†¬†

My mindset: ¬†I represent my business interests in this negotiation and those interests are my life, my ability to make choices, my freedom. This is my family I’m negotiating for.

And if that isn’t enough, I absolutely acknowledge that as a woman, as a minority(somewhat, this is a slightly wibbly wobbly factor), and as a relatively young person, I apparently have the cards stacked against me, not to mention the dismissive attitudes that don’t come right out and say: it’s not that your work doesn’t merit the higher salary, but you’re just sort of too young so we don’t actually understand why you’re asking as you should be glad to have landed the job.

And to that I say: You’ve had the time and opportunity to observe extremely high quality, high powered work and know that I will bring even more value over the next period of time, and for that? Appropriate compensation is appropriate.

But at this point, it was a waiting game. I had been interviewed, other candidates would be interviewed, and a second round of interviews would commence for final candidates.

March 9, 2012

Money in my 20s

Balancing acts in adulthood

I’ve been enjoying the conversations over at Wandering Scientist on work life balance. As I teeter into my thirties, I’ve been examining some of the financial and professional choices I’ve made during this decade and reflecting on how effective those philosophies have been and whether they will continue to hold true for the upcoming decade. I suspect that life and money and career in my thirties will be just as interesting a trip, but beyond that? Well, so far I’ve been terrible at prognosticating so I’ll just leave it at that.

As for my twenties ….

These were absolutely the foundation years: completing the final years of undergrad, deciding to hold off on graduate school until I knew better what I wanted out of it, throwing myself into my career at full tilt while digging out of debt and then building up a nest egg.  My approach to my career and my money was the same: more is better.

Philosophically, the natural, deeply ingrained, unthinking element was an intrinsic need to achieve something, a drive to have a discernable growth pattern, to do something that seemed tangible. I wanted to build a career, I wanted to have achieved something substantive.

The logical, considered, and reasoned plan was to aim for a position where my work-life balance wouldn’t be dictated by the company because I was highly placed enough where they didn’t care about niceties like when I showed up or how many hours I worked as long as the job was done well. ¬†Essentially, I wanted to achieve the ability to talk terms with the company I worked for as long as I was an employee.


In Oil and Garlic’s post,¬†A Precarious Balance, she discusses the ignored constraints in finding work-life balance when your income doesn’t stretch to buying flexibility and help. She lists a number of things that one can do to earn or achieve more flexibility from her perspective as a non-manager with a mid-level salary in a HCOLA. ¬†That combination probably describes a fair number of us who¬†simply don’t have the ability to buy out of the choices that we have to manage to run households and feed mouths, day to day.

Meanwhile, she notes: At my company, those in manager positions and above enjoy a higher autonomy.   They don’t have to ask permission to work from home.  They also have the money for nanny and cleaning help, something that my household has paid for but at a great sacrifice (and only temporarily).   They can still enjoy many luxuries like massages, travel and dining out.  True, they have greater responsibilities, too, and they’ve earned it.  But their solutions often aren’t applicable to those those in lower income brackets.  In other words, they can buy some balance while many people don’t have that same privilege.

I very much agreed. ¬†Having worked many years in retail and other similarly low-wage environments while going to school, I’d observed very early on the vulnerabilities of being in the middle and lower tiers of any organization. One typically has less negotiating power in terms of responsibilities, is considered more expendable or is less valued as an asset to the company, and blends in with the rest of the equivalent employees holding the same role.

In that position, an individual’s power, and the choices one would like to make for oneself tend to lie in the advocacy and kindness of an immediate superior and his or her ability to persuade at least one or more rungs above if flexibility isn’t part of the company policy.


In the long-term, that was far too slim a reed for me to rest my life and my family’s lives on, particularly when I had the additional concern of a chronic illness for which there were no immediate prospects for improvement.

Superficially, need and circumstance dictated that I simply earn a living but I was compelled to steer my career trajectory as steeply as I could, as early as I could, while building a strong reputation in my chosen field. My theory was that should I be derailed for any length of time, for any reason, that reputation would serve to smooth my way.

Cloud, of Wandering Scientist confirms, whatever choice you make¬†to take a break for family reasons after you’ve established yourself, you’re usually starting from a better place:

Once you have kids, you can decide whether or not you want or need to ease up on your career, but whatever you decide, it will be easier to keep your career viable if you have a strong reputation built in your earlier years. Whether you keep working or take a break, that reputation will serve you well. I think that one reason I haven’t suffered from much “working moms are slackers” bias in my own career is that I have a sterling reputation for productivity- and have maintained it. But we are also actively recruiting someone right now who is coming back after about 5 years off with young kids. We actually sought her out and asked her if she was ready to come back, on the basis of having been impressed with her work before she took the break.

Details will differ a bit across industries but the basis makes sense to me – someone who had a solid reputation before taking a break would have a leg up on someone who hadn’t established one.


My personal net worth has gone from -$50,000 in family debt to around $100,000 in assets over the course of nine years in addition to paying for all living expenses for a family of four. While it’s no great shakes, it’s certainly a fair start at a real financial basis with which to start a family.

I haven’t taken a break yet, and I don’t know if and when I (or we) will decide that it’s time to, but right now, I’m in a strong building phase of my career and striving for higher earning power. It’s only partly a joke that I’m trying to outearn PiC before the end of this year. That’s partly ego, and partly practicality. If I’m the higher earner, and we start a family, there’s a stronger case for him to stay home with the kids! ūüėČ

In the end, my choices throughout my twenties were tailored to setting the scene and creating opportunities for freedom and better choices in the future.

This post is part of Women‚Äôs Money Week 2012. For more posts about Money in Your 20s see Money in Your 20’s/30’s/40’s/50’s/Retirement Roundup

October 20, 2011

How to Unlock Your Achievements

Pardon, you might think you’re at the wrong blog today. ¬†But I’ve got to go on another career-related rant. ¬†My colleague told me today that someone was “upset” at the organization. ¬†When I asked why, I was told that the someone had wanted to apply for a promotion but wasn’t allowed to because of a lack of a specific key qualification. ¬†That someone was upset: I’ve been here for years, and I’ve never been given the opportunity to do that!

…….. ¬†Really? ¬†Really??

Ok. Nerve? Torched. ¬†Because honest to Jeopardy, darling, that’s just it, isn’t it? ¬†You’ve been here for years and that’s the end of your response? ¬†No one took care of you? ¬†Did you do anything about it? ¬† Or did you sit there like a limp noodle the whole time and then jump at the chance for more money without considering what you needed to do in order to land that peach? ¬†[I can answer that. No. Didn’t do nuffin’.]

And now you’re upset at the organization that wronged you. ¬†Honestly.¬†

“I wasn’t given an opportunity.”¬†
“I didn’t get a chance to show you what I could do.”¬†

I’ll give you a hint: ¬†These are not the phrases to use when you want a job or a promotion and you’ve been told that you’re underqualified because of some missing skill or qualification.

In fact, I will heartily tell you that I am sick of hearing them. ¬†Don’t even think it. ¬†Imagine your upcoming job or career opportunities. ¬†Imagine what the recruiter, hiring manager or resume screener is going to think when he/she/it looks at your resume and compares it to the list of what they want or need. ¬†If you find yourself reverting to¬†those up there¬†as your only answer (aka: excuse) when your hiring manager disabuses you of the notion that you’re going to get the job, I want you to Shake Yourself.

Non.  Non.

Not only will that not get you the job, it will, in certain eyes, reduce any respect they might have had for you.  Like mine.  

Tell me, why do you need the opportunities given to you?   

Let me tell you what I’ve discovered that phrase and the utterers have in common: a need for spoonfeeding. ¬†It says to me, on your behalf: ¬†When you hire me, I’m going to ask you basic questions to which I should know the answers or should be able to find myself. ¬†And when you don’t have time to feed me, I’m going to do something else without bothering to try to find out the answer myself.

As it turns out, Google is your friend. As it turns out, there are tons of other resources available and when it comes to allocation of resources, do you want to waste our half hour on: “How do I write my review? How does this process work? ¬†What should I write?”

Or do you want to spend it talking over which skills you need to set you up for a cool new project and in line for a promotion? ¬†Because I will answer the question you ask. But if you want to throw away what I can do for you, then you are throwing away your own opportunity. And frankly, I have too many other people asking for time and attention to mollycoddle anyone who won’t do anything but flip their hair and flap their hands until the next question.

I’m inclined to helping people grow and learn but there’s only so much pushing I can do. ¬† I’ve learned my lesson – I’m not going to hire any more people who display that lack of savvy and initiative if I can help it.

Sometimes, it’s valid¬†

Granted, there are certain things you need the support of others to do, you need the authority to do, or you plain cannot have without someone giving something up.

Very true, you must be given some of those things. ¬† However. ¬†You can show your initiative by learning about the things you want to do even if you cannot whole-cloth have them. ¬†You can take classes, you can shadow people who are doing the job, you can ask them to mentor and teach you, you can volunteer elsewhere to pick up the experience you want even if it’s not in the same place or environment.

If it’s an internal promotion you have your sights on, you should, without being obnoxious about it, express your interest clearly in the kind of advancement or experience you would like and why. ¬†In general, you should always be doing that anyway!

If you’re going for a new job and it wasn’t your job to do the work in question but you’ve gone and learned it anyway, you bet your boot nails I will rate you more highly than a person who did have the work and was not distinguished in any way by how they did it.

Think about it: who looks better? ¬†The one with fire in the belly, clearly has special interest and has done something about it? ¬†Or the one who has been flapping hands around in a puddle looking like doing a job? ¬†I’m no idiot – I want the fire-eater, every time.

That’s not to say that someone who already does the job always gets trumped by an up and comer, I’m just saying that there are clearly mediocre lifer-type candidates who barely do their job. ¬†We know they shouldn’t get promoted over someone with real potential because they aren’t capable. ¬† But — you can’t be that newcomer if you don’t realize your own potential. ¬†No one can do that but YOU.

Potential is just resting, potential is possibilities. ¬†Don’t tell me you have potential. ¬†Show me what that potential can be. Get out there and show what you’re capable of with every possible tool at your disposal. ¬†Ask for support and learn new things. ¬†Don’t just sit there waiting for opportunity to present itself. ¬†You’re just kicking opportunity in the face.

Show me your will, that is the way.

Ironically, as I write this, I clicked through an email notifying me that Erica.biz has posted on her blog, writing about her journey of the past ten years.  I keep an eye on people who have the same drive to succeed that I do, even if my path is nowhere near like hers.  And you know what?  The essence of her message is very much the same: 

This world does not hand you success. It certainly doesn’t hand you a job. I’ve had to fight for everything I’ve had in this life. I’ve taught myself what I need to know to be successful. And, if you see yourself in any of this, my message to you is: You can do it, too. Just don’t expect it to be easy.

[For the record: I passed along a message to my colleague. If that someone did something like take initiative, I’d do a solid in return and recommend that a future application be considered. I may have learned my lesson but that someone should learn one too.]

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