I just got back from what I’ll affectionately call a “working vacation,” though a more accurate term would probably be “month in Hell.” Diablo fans would be pleased. I did more work in the last month than in the three months before, and I’m not done yet.
However, this situation brought something interesting to my attention: what do you do when it’s time for vacation? Everyone handles vacation time differently. The way I see it, there are exactly four types of vacation, all of which have their places in a company.
[*]The Relaxing Vacation. This is when you’ve finished all the work you had to do, and decided to take a break. You go to your boss and say “‘sup?” and he says “yo” and you say “can I have a week vacation? My stuff’s all done.” Really, this is what a vacation is supposed to be.
[*]The Working Vacation. I just had one of these. You don’t have all your work done, but you really need to get out of the office before you hit someone in the head with a computer monitor. The work goes with you, and everybody knows it, and when you come back it’s expected that you’ll have the work done.
[*]The Stealth Vacation. You’re on vacation, but you’re the only one who knows it. This happens when you finish all your work early, and have nothing to do for a few days. Ideally, everyone should have one of these every couple weeks, for a few hours or so.
[*]The Forced Vacation. This is when you’re told “you need a break. Go home, and don’t come back until March.” The work is dropped in progress, and somebody has to pick it up for you.
Now, you’re probably thinking “what does this have to do with designing computer games?” In a way, this column actually applies to every business you will ever encounter, to a point. It’s a little more relevant for computer games though, because everyone has their own part in the project, which is expected at a specific time. If the demo’s music is expected in by November 1, and you’re on vacation between October 20 and November 6, the music must be in before you leave or else delays occur.
So far, this column has been from the point of view of an employee. From here forward, let’s take the viewpoint of the manager.
The relaxing vacation is a great reward. Someone has worked hard, and earned their stripes. They’ve gotten everything finished. Time off with pay will never be rejected, and everyone looks forward to it. Actually, as an employer you’re obligated to provide some of this anyway, though the amount varies by location (2 weeks in North America, as many as 12 weeks in some countries in Europe).
The great thing about sending someone on a relaxing vacation is you can plan for it in advance. Usually you have weeks of warning when someone’s vacation time is approaching, and you can adjust your assignments and deadlines accordingly. This is what everyone loves, because productivity is maintained.
The working vacation is almost as good. It’s even better for the managers, because that’s less work they need to oversee around the office. Usually a working vacation comes about from someone being offered a relaxing vacation, but wanting to continue contributing anyway. You say “here, have a week off,” and they say “give me something to do, I have no friends.” You hand over some work for them, and everyone else’s load gets lighter.
Of course, sometimes this doesn’t come about in such an expected way. When 3DO was developing Meridian 59, the lead programmer decided to take some time off in the mountains, and he took all the code with him. Two weeks later he came back just as mysteriously as he’d left, and nobody had any clue what was going on, or even if he was ever coming back.
(on a related note, Meridian 59 has recently been re-released by Near Death Studios, and is a free MMORPG. People should check it out)
The stealth vacation is actually the most useless one of the bunch. It’s great for the employee who’s taking time off without anyone knowing about it, but that time could be better spent doing… well… anything. What’s the use in dawdling in the office when you could be getting things done, and getting ahead in your work? A little relaxation time is great, but it’s much better for the company, and consequently for you in the long run, for you to keep working and getting ahead.
Finally, the forced vacation is something you need to pay very close attention to. There are usually only two possible reasons for sending someone away like this: An emotional distress of some sort, like a death in the family, or a physical illness that the employee refuses to recognize. I’ve had to send people home for each of these before.
As an employer, it’s your duty to notice when someone is going through one of these problems. Part of management is managing people, and part of managing people is enough psychology knowledge to pick out what’s going on. When you suspect someone’s having difficulty, pull them aside and ask what’s wrong. If nothing else, they’ll appreciate the time you’re spending with them as a manager.
Everyone likes vacations, but you need to make sure you keep them under control. If you have 26 employees, who each get 2 weeks of vacation a year, they should be staggered so you always have 25 people working for you. Otherwise, it’ll take longer for your game to be finished, and your legions of rabid fans will be displeased.
Disclaimer: Behind the Veil was written by Chris Marks and hosted by Diabloii.net. The opinions expressed in these columns are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Diii.net.