Don't be a vacation jerk

One of my colleagues was seething about her recent experience with a large home-improvement retailer. "We're in the middle of remodeling our kitchen," she fumed, "but the whole project is stalled because nobody can get into one guy's computer!" Apparently, her project manager was the only person familiar with the job — and he was on vacation for a week.

To make matters worse, no one, including the supervisor, could access the data on this employee's password-protected computer. My irate colleague had decided how to avoid such problems in the future, though. "For my next project," she emphatically declared, "I'm going to their competitor."

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While most people carefully plan their vacations, they often forget to plan for their absence from work. This oversight can result in irritated bosses, upset customers, confused coworkers and even damaged careers — so consider these suggestions before you go on holiday.

Don't leave a mess. While you're basking on the beach, your colleagues shouldn't have to sift through piles of papers or scroll down long email lists to find some critical piece of information. Nor should they have to deal with exasperated customers whose calls were never returned. Before you head out, bring your work up-to-date and give others access to important information.

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Avoid making your boss look stupid. One public-relations manager neglected to tell her CEO that their company would be featured in a news story while she was out of the country. When he began to receive inquiries about the piece, he had no idea what people were talking about. To keep your boss from being caught off-guard, provide a heads-up about events that may occur while you're away.

Remember to replace yourself. A reader of my newspaper column described this problem: "When a co-worker went on vacation recently, no one was given responsibility for her calls. They were just transferred to anyone who was available. Now our supervisor is hearing from angry customers who received inaccurate information." If you have ongoing responsibilities which can't be deferred until your return, either delegate them to a specific colleague or ask your manager to do so.

Agree on your availability. Unless you're backpacking in a remote wilderness, modern technology makes it possible to track you down almost anywhere at any time. To avoid being hounded while you're trying to relax, talk with key people about when you can be reached by phone and how often you will be checking email. If you are addicted to electronic communication, force yourself to stick to these limits. Otherwise, you may find yourself teleworking instead of vacationing.

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Let someone know where to find you. Being constantly connected by cell phones, we tend to be increasingly clueless about where people actually are. But since electronics aren't foolproof and emergencies do arise, remember to give at least one person detailed contact information. This simple step greatly helped one of my employees whose house burned down while he was camping in an isolated area. Had he not provided the name of the campground, no one would have been able to find him.

Be a good boss. Sometimes the manager is the vacation jerk, as illustrated by this sad lament: "Whenever I plan to take a trip, my boss will ask me to change the dates or cancel, sometimes at a moment's notice. Although I get several weeks of vacation a year, I'm seldom able to use them."

This disorganized manager needs to realize that vacations actually make people more productive. So if you're the boss, encourage your employees to take time off, and don't become a vacation stalker. Make reasonable contact arrangements, then leave them alone as much as possible.

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When you try to prevent problems for your colleagues, they are likely to return the favor and allow you to enjoy your getaway. So once you've taken steps to cover your absence, forget about the office and have a great time!

But when you come back ...

Perhaps you have 200 really great pictures. Or maybe you've created an adorable vacation scrapbook. Or you might have used your remarkable technical skills to turn the whole trip into a movie. If so, feel free to share those wonderful memories with your family and (maybe) close friends. But don't bother bringing them to work, because the sad truth is that your coworkers are simply not that interested. For them, a couple of snapshots will be perfectly sufficient.

Commentary by Marie McIntyre, a career coach ( and the author of "Secrets to Winning at Office Politics." Follow her on Twitter @officecoach.