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The Microsoft Manager And The Vacation Request

October 2, 2015

He was a on the fast track at Microsoft. On track to be promoted to a Unit Manager. There was just one problem. The amount of PTO his team took was way off and he needed to fix it if he wanted to move up in the company. 

Microsoft used to be the place to work. All the cool kids worked there. Even getting an interview was a big deal. They year they hired me, I was one of about 500 new hires. . .at a company that employed 50,000. Like many compnaies, Microsoft liked to promote from within. There were many criteria that Microsoft used to gause who should move up; programs shipped, team morale, projects completed, and team vacation time. 

Vacation time, or PTO (Personal Time Off) as any three-letter-acronym loving person calls it, it pretty simple. You get a certain number of days each month or each year. Typically unused vacation days will accrue until you reach a certain point. (At Microsoft it was 1.5 times your annual allotment.) At that point you do not accrue any additional vacation days. 

It’s a sad fact of project management that you cannot ship your product whil you are away from the office on PTO. The same goes for your teams. You need the people actually there working. It’s tempting to attempt to maximize your team’s time in the office. After all, if your team is off on vacation, they aren’t putting out product, or delivering new programs. 

Of course, the downside is the ris that you’ll burn out your team. How do you balance the two? At Microsoft they balanced them by tying the manager’s review to how much PTO their employees took. In other words if your team didn’t take ENOUGH time off, you got a bad reveiw. 

And it work. Managers would send people off on vacation and insist that they not log into email. Not only was it good for the employees, but it made the project team stronger as well. Team members learned to stretch beyond their own area of expertise to sometimes cover for team members who were out. 

There is a business maxim that says, “What gets measured, improves.” In this case, they wanted to improve employee work/life blance. The key is finding the right measurement. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2015 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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