Is It Time For a Vacation?

I’ve been thinking a lot about vacations lately. It’s been years since I’ve taken an annual two-week break from work. This year is no exception. I wonder if this is wise.

I suspect employers began offering vacations to long-term employees as a reward for their service, expecting workers to return from their two-week sojourn rested and ready to work with greater effectiveness. Just as the weekend provides a short break from the workweek, a vacation provides a longer break from the work year. And we do need breaks.

Yet too many employees cram as much activity into their vacation time as possible. They come back exhausted instead of refreshed. They need to return to work to rest from their vacation. This is not as it should be. For these folks, their work prior to their vacation is wasted in anticipation, and their work after vacation is equally unproductive because they’re too tired to do much.

Then there are people like me. At most of my jobs, no one did my work while I was gone. I’d spend the week before vacation, trying hard to work ahead. Then, afterwards, it would take a couple weeks to catch up. For all the good my vacation did – and I actually rested on my vacations – the backlog of work when I returned quickly negated its benefits.

For the past fifteen years, a two-week vacation has been out of the question: the overlapping production schedules of multiple publications leaves me no time to take a long break. Instead, I’ve opted for shorter respites, an occasional long weekend, a day trip here and there, even time off during the day for a quick outing.

It’s a rhythm that works for me, but all the while I wonder what I might be missing by not taking a two-week vacation.

When was your last vacation? What did you do?

Is Gamification a Trend or a Fad?

I was quite skeptical about “gamification,” the use of game concepts to motivate desirable behavior among customers (or employees).

I reasoned that while expecting customers to “play games” might result in a short-term increase in brand involvement or purchases, I doubted if it was sustainable. However, I am rethinking my knee-jerk assessment.

As a Netflix customer, I was likely involved in a basic gamification effort. As I posted movie reviews on their site, I was given a “reviewer rank.” As I posted more reviews, my rank would improve. At one point I had worked my way to the neighborhood of 5,000 out of several million reviewers. Bettering my reviewer rank became a game for me. Yes, I enjoyed watching the movies and, yes, I found it rewarding to share my input with other Netflix customers, but the validation of my efforts came through watching my reviewer rank improve.

However, if it was a “game,” the problem was I didn’t know the rules. I assumed more reviews was good, more readers of my reviews was beneficial, and more people flagging my reviews as “helpful” in comparison to “not helpful” was also a factor. But this could not be verified, as everything I did was competing with what others did. So I could do something to improve my reviewer rank, but if others did even more to improve theirs, my rank would actually decrease.

I reviewed 71 movies and then abruptly stopped when I realized I no longer enjoyed doing so.

It seems gamification may work after all — at least for a while.

There Has to be a Better Way

I don’t know if I wasn’t listening or am slow to catch on, but it wasn’t until later in life that I realized how to land a job:

  • The purpose of a resume is to secure an interview,
  • the purpose of an interview is sell yourself well enough to receive an offer, and
  • the purpose of an offer is to negotiate a compensation package for your new job.

Silly me. I thought that people should just hire me because I could do the work — and would do it well. (I wouldn’t have applied if I didn’t believe that.) I viewed the application/resume and interview steps as unnecessary irritations in the process. As far as compensation negotiations, just skip that part and pay me what I am worth.

The sad reality is that — except for a few positions, such as sales or marketing — being able to pen a compelling resume or conduct a convincing interview is no measure of one’s ability to actually do a job, merely their ability to obtain a job. The result is that unsuited people are hired and — I fear — good people are overlooked. There has to be a better way.

The same is true in politics. You need to be able to raise money to campaign and you need to be able to debate well to raise your poll numbers and you need to speak with conviction to create interest among the electorate. But these skills have little bearing on your ability to lead well.

Whether it is obtaining a job or being elected, the conventional processes do not allow the best person to prevail. There has to be a better way.

Partner or Employee?

Last month, after much planning and consideration, my bride joined me in my publishing business. Her long commute to her prior job was becoming wearisome and with winter approaching, bad weather would make it even longer and more of a worry.

As we shared this possibility with others, the idea was met with raised eyebrows and skepticism. One doubtful friend directly stated, “Married people should not work together.” A wise friend, however, advised that we consider whether Candy would be my employee or my partner. That was a great question and we opted for partner.

We even did a trial run this spring when she had some vacation time to use up. The test went quite well, so we moved forward with our plans. Now, six weeks into it, we are pleased with the results. It was a good move and I wish we had done it sooner.

The only occasional hiccup is that sometimes she acts like an employee and sometimes I view her as one. Still we are steadily moving towards the goal of becoming business partners and I suspect as she more fully understands the business, that goal will be realized.

Do You Have Power?

Last weekend we decided to watch a DVD.  The only problem was that we were in the midst of a power outage.  Undaunted, we gathered around a laptop and popped in the DVD.  It would not play; something about a missing plug-in.

Although frustrating, we moved to a second laptop.  The DVD played fine — until the battery died with only a couple of scenes remaining.

I pulled a third laptop out of the closet, but the battery was dead.  Fortunately, the battery from the first laptop was interchangeable; unfortunately, that computer had issues as well: one program had an audio problem and the other one, video.

However, a small UPS in my office still had some life left in it, so we migrated there with laptop #2 — and watched another 30 seconds before the UPS ran out of juice.

The movie would need to wait for tomorrow.

As I lay in bed, wondering how it ended, I recalled the power inverter in my car.  We could have retreated there to power the laptop and conclude the movie.  While I considered the merits of sitting in a car that was parked in a garage to watch a movie on a laptop, I drifted off to sleep — and to the sound of my neighbor’s generator.

The Long and Short of It

Sometimes after a day at work, my bride comes home and remarks, “it’s been a long day!”

Being the supportive and understanding spouse that I am, I quickly concur with appropriate empathy.  Unfortunately, I am seldom content to merely agree, so I sarcastically add, “Yes, I heard on the news that today was 35 minutes longer then yesterday.  Today, was, truly a long day.”  That rarely wins me any points, but does garner an irritated glare.

What she may mean is that work lasted — or seemed to last — for a long time.  Alternately, it could convey that work was very frustrating. I know what she means, but she doesn’t say what she means.  Instead, she insists that the day was somehow longer than normal.

It like fashion, some people quip that yesterday was the longest day of the year.  But that is not correct either.  It was the same length as all the others; it merely contained more daylight minutes — and correspondingly less nighttime minutes — than any other day of the year.  That is, for those of us north of the equator.

For those in the southern hemisphere, theirs was the shortest day of the year.  Not really.  It just had the least amount of daylight and the maximum amount of darkness.

What about those on the equator?  I understand that they enjoyed an even 12 – 12 split of light and dark, just like every other day.

So whether your day was long — or short — or the same length as all others, I hope that it was a good one.  Mine was.

No Power Means No Heat

I was wrapping things up last night and ready to start a blog entry when the power went out.  This was peculiar as there were no storms and it was not windy — the two prime reasons for us to lose power.  Our power outages are usually a few seconds to a couple of minutes, so I kept working for a while (I have a small UPS for my computer).  When power wasn’t restored quickly, I began an orderly shutdown.

Once I turned the monitors off, I was in the dark.  By the time I felt my way to the main floor, my bride had found and turned on a battery powered-lantern.  We used it as a reading lamp for a couple of hours, hoping for the quick return of electricity.  Alas, it did not happen.

Although we have gas heat, electricity is required for the thermostat to function, to ignite the pilot, and to power the blower fan.  No power means no heat.  The weather forecast was for a low of zero (it actually hit 5 below), so I knew that a prolonged outage, would mean a cold house.

I piled more blankets on the bed, put on extra clothes, including a hoody, and climbed in bed.  Snuggled up in my cocoon, I pulled the hood over my head, with only my face exposed.  It reminded me of camping out as a kid.  My thoughts returned to those good times and I happily drifted off to sleep.

My sleep was short-lived as the power was restored a half hour later.  I got up and did a cursory check to make sure things were okay  — and to turn off the couple of lights whose switches we had mistakenly left on when we lost power.

I also checked the temperature.  In the two and a half hours without power, the temperature had dropped 5 degrees.  At that rate, had power remained off, it would have been quite cold by morning.

Thankfully, the power did come back, saving us from that experience.

Six Years Too Late

A while back, my bride was awarded a “five-year plaque” at work — and she was miffed.

The public recognition for five years of work is supposed to be a good thing.  Causing angst wasn’t the intention.  The goal of the award was to make her feel appreciated, to give her a reason to feel good about her job and the company she worked for.

Sadly, it had the opposite effect.  You see, it was given to her after eleven years of employment.  It was a recognition that was six years too late.  Even more tragic, none of her co-workers realized the error.

I encouraged her to get the error corrected.  My reasoning was that if for any future reason her employment tenure needed to be verified, it would be good for them to have accurate information.

This discrepancy between reality and their computer database gives me pause.  It is often claimed that many people lie on their resumes and job applications.  While I am sure that there are plenty of grand embellishments and outright fabrications that are advanced during employment procurement efforts, I wonder how many of these alleged lies are in actuality errant corporate records.

If she were to put on a job application or credit application that she had been employed for eleven years, but the company would only confirm five, who would be believed?  Would she even be consulted or made aware of a discrepancy?  I fear not; I suspect her application would be summarily rejected and she would never know the reason why.

Anyway, after a bit if digging, we found her first W2 from eleven years ago.  She showed it to human resources and with a couple of key clicks, the error was fixed.

I wonder when she’ll get her ten-year plaque.

Go Directly to Jail, Do Not Pass Go…

The recent issue of Sojourners magazine cited some sobering facts about the state of the prison system in the US:

  • 7.4 million people were under the control of the US criminal justice system in 2007. I’m not exactly sure what is meant by “under control,” but that is over 2% of the population, which is shocking.
  • 67% of people released from prison are re-arrested within three years. So, the number of repeat offenders in prison is substantial. The question is, how much does incarceration contribute to recidivism? More to the point, would crime decrease, if we could keep first-time offenders out of prison? Environment has to be another factor, and in most cases, a released prisoner returns to the same environment; that doesn’t help. Economics would be another factor; see the next point.
  • 83.5% of the people in jail (in 2002) earned less than $2,000 a month prior to being arrested. Certainly, economic pressure is a factor in the commission of crimes.  Interestingly, a $2,000 month threshold is quite a bit more than the poverty level, which the US Census Bureau put at $9,183 a year for a single person in 2002. Two thousand a month roughly equates to an hourly wage of $12.50, quite a bit higher than the current minimum wage. This all suggests that viable employment, at an appropriate wage, is part of the solution to lower crime and incarceration.

(The title of this post comes from the game of Monopoly and was chosen merely to be catchy and provoking. Interestingly, Go Directly to Jail is also the title of a book on this subject. I haven’t read it, but it may be worth checking out. The product description on Amazon is most promising, but the reader reviews suggest that it digresses from that tack. Caveat emptor.)