Feeling guilty for not "being accessible" when on vacation?
I work in a small post-house, and I often work 10-11 hour days, often times on weekends. Because we're so small, our job duties among the employees tend to overlap a lot. Our editor can also to motion graphics, and our graphics guy can do basic finishing and colorcorrection, etc. But we generally have clear cut specialtys, where each of us is generally booked as a first choice by a client.
That said, the older I get, and the more personal commitments I have, the more I find myself intensely valuing my personal time. Unless a job is currently hot or planned to require attention on a weekend or after hours, I simply refuse to answer the phone or check/respond to my work email in my off hours. When I was younger, and had more time on my hands, I would generally respond to client emails within the hour, and work late into the night to meet their last minute deadlines.
Now in retrospect, I'm learning that this accessibility and "gung ho" attitude towards my clients has come back to haunt me, in that clients now expect me to answer my phone or email at any moments notice, at their beckon call. And because I refuse to do that any more, it rubs some clients the wrong way. And sometimes it rubs some of my coworkers the wrong way, one of whom is a notorious "drop your entire life for the sake of the client" kind of person.
Well, I'm well into my 40s now, and refuse to destroy my life because a client who does not respect otehr people's time and personal lives demands that I be accessible to them at any moments notice. So when I go on vacations, I set my email autoresponder to basically say "I'm away until such-and-such date, and I'll respond to your message as soon as I get back." I don't even give an option to contact me on my cell, nor do I imply that I'll be checking my email or voicemail while I'm away. As far as I'm concerned, I don't exist for the time I'm on vacation-even if I'm able to easily check my work email.
It's part of my grand plan to set reasonable expectations for my clients. Video production is not a life or death thing that requires one to be on call 24/7. Especially if you aren't getting paid commensurate with your level of accessibility, which I/we are definitely not.
And yet, I'm made to feel guilty by some people simply because I refuse to compromise on my personal time. Because they know that I have email access even while im on vacation (i'm an iPhone user), they get perturbed that I wont even respond to simple client requests that come in during my vacation time.
Anyone share similar experiences? I guess I dont have much of a specific question. Im just kind of venting to my peers, hoping that I'm not alone in this situation.
Hi Robert - I think that a lot of us find ourselves in this situation and there is probably no right or wrong. I am a one-man-band and in days gone by, I did used to answer emails and take / make work calls out of hours or on holiday. About 5 years ago I changed to keeping pretty much office hours and not taking work calls at odd times / weekends / on holidays.
I give regular clients a couple of weeks notice of holiday plans; this contact often results in a friendly response of 'thanks for the heads up; we will be in touch about another project after you get back'.
Also, I increasingly found that those who contacted me over weekends / at odd times were not great to work for ('grinders' as they are known here!), but those who stuck to 'office hours' usually worked at sensible and reasonable companies. Also, having 'down time' and refreshment helps working time to be more productive and enjoyable in my experience - family time / non-work time is special and I don't want work interrupting it.
Obviously there are times when deadlines need meeting that this all goes out of the window, but because it only happens a few times a year now, rather than every other week I quite enjoy it - the trick is to not let work dominate your life and most reasonable clients would probably agree with this.
[Martin Phillips] "having 'down time' and refreshment helps working time to be more productive"
Bingo! (An American euphemism for a strong YES.) In recent years I've come to the conclusion that downtime is essential to having productive "uptime." I've also concluded that "staying in touch" during a vacation quickly makes it feel like one hasn't had a vacation at all. Learned this one the hard way by taking a 3 week Caribbean vacation a few years ago and attempting to lessen the impact by staying in touch with clients and the office. The clients may have been comfortable with this, but I came home feeling mostly un-rested.
Robert, stand your ground. You're on the right track.
[Martin Phillips] "it only happens a few times a year now, rather than every other week"
I have a friend who describes this perfectly as, "If you're going to do the occasional back flip for a client, make sure it's a client who is worthy of the back flip." In fact at his fairly large business everyone who interacts with a customer rates each and every interaction on a 1 to 5 scale. The people dealing with his customers are able to call up the running tally on their order/entry screens whenever a call comes in. If the customer was slow pay, or a pain to deal with, or was prone to screaming at his people, or any number of other factors, the salesperson taking the order can easily identify good customers from less than good.
Our business is a lot smaller, but the principle remains sound.
[Nick Griffin] "make sure it's a client who is worthy of the back flip."
I couldn't agree more with this. I have a 3 of 4 clients that have been consistent clients for many years. Not only do they have regular projects, but because of that, I have gotten quite close with them. I can count on them for routine work, and with that they get certain privileges that other clients don't necessarily get. They don't get charged for every little thing I do for them (doing a quick re-encode, sending out a rush proof of something, making a minor change, etc) but it's more than worth it in the big picture because they don't grind me on their projects and they always come back.
One client in particular is an international humanitarian organization. They travel and often need things while they are in different time zones around the world, which means it's not unheard of for my cell phone to ring at 2am in the morning....or while we're on vacation. I do my very best to accommodate their needs whenever and wherever possible, and my wife is incredibly understanding that it's worth this little sacrifice, but at the same time, this is the rare exception and the majority of clients don't get this treatment.
It's important to have boundaries. It's hard to keep them up, but they are crucial to avoiding premature burnout.
Certainly, if you respond to off-hours calls you should be billing for that time. There's a case going thru the Chicago courts right now, whee a cop was issued a blackberry for use on the job, and he wound up doing a lot of work-related paperwork and communications on it after his shift was over. Like you, he got sucked into a cycle of being on an electronic leash, having to respond to a lot of things off-shift, sometimes for hours every day. He's suing to classify that work as overtime, and get paid for it, and the case looks pretty good.
I would say as a generality, editors are a class of people who love being the guy or gal that "saves the day", that comes up with the artistic technique or whatever that solves a problem, and it's even more impressive when achieved under deadline. We like the drama:-) It can become a rush like those experienced by adrenaline junkies. But you make yourself vulnerable to exploitation by the unethical folks, when you never modulate this "hero response". Moreover, with the bad clients that force you into these repeated dramatic saves, you're not training them to be better when you keep saving them, you're only reinforcing and enabling continued and increased bad behavior, when they never suffer consequences for lack of preparation, or for indecisiveness.
Bill for it.
If the office calls me to be "on standby" to drop everything and go do a shoot, after work hours, but they don't have a firm time or location, I get paid a stand-by rate overtime fee for that, because I am now a prisoner in my own house, unable to commit to anything I want to do, while I'm waiting for them to decide if I go or not. Federal labor law descibes it as "being engaged to be waiting", like a firefighter on duty. And you are entitled to some level of pay for being so engaged.
I can understand the co-workers being a little bitter if they are always rising to the bait/challenge, and you are not. I would guess they are younger, and perhaps don't have as much going on in their personal lives. But they need to respect the boundaries you've set, as long as they are logical and fair. Everybody has to make exceptions from time to time, of course. But the definition of "exception" has a time limit. Like maybe twice a year. It may help if you explain to "the guys" that it's not that you are avoiding doing your fair share, more that you are making a statement, setting boundaries to your private life, and protecting yourself from being exploited. Stress that your commitment is unwavering during work hours and sometimes a little beyond, but that there comes a time when you have to say no, or you never have a life outside of work. Work is not life. Work and life can intertwine, but they are still separate things. Work pays for the ability to enjoy and experience life. If you never get to enjoy that living, because of the working, you may have lost sight of the purpose of the work.
Sign on my friend's desk:
"Lack of preparation and planning on YOUR part,
does not constitute an emergency on MY part".
I have a friend who describes this perfectly as, "If you're going to do the occasional back flip for a client, make sure it's a client who is worthy of the back flip." In fact at his fairly large business everyone who interacts with a customer rates each and every interaction on a 1 to 5 scale. The people dealing with his customers are able to call up the running tally on their order/entry screens whenever a call comes in. If the customer was slow pay, or a pain to deal with, or was prone to screaming at his people, or any number of other factors, the salesperson taking the order can easily identify good customers from less than good.-Nick Griffin
I call this "the jerk tax". The clients that are insufferable shouldn't get the benefit of the doubt when you figure hours and costs for billing, no freebies and "added value" that other, nicer clients might sometimes get. And if you devote too much time tot he jerks and grinders and ill-prepared, they crowd out the nice clients over time. That's never good.
Try to work with the ill-prepared and see if you can teach them what they need to do. Sometimes they are trainable, and you can turn the relationship around to a very positive one. If they don't respond to training or advice, you're free to get as passive-aggressive as you like:-)
"As far as I'm concerned, I don't exist for the time I'm on vacation-even if I'm able to easily check my work email."
If you are not the business owner, then this is the way it should be, as long as there is a "please contact so and so in my absense" in the autoresponder then you should be fine, that way the client isn't left in the cold.
I let regular clients know when I will be away since I am a one-man show most of the time.
Media Production Services
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Really interesting post.
My career is a lot different than others that responded. My job start as an inhouse AV guy (like an AV janitor). I grew my department into a In-house multimedia production department. Things where growing great until funding became an issue. It became: "Hummm... You know the most about computers, you can be the IT manager as well, Oh by the way you are now the department of one".
I use to think I was working hard, not taking vaction or being accessible during, so I could command my boundries later. Boy was I wrong.
I had to learn the hard way...Set your limits early and never let anyone set them for you. If you can handle emails and check voicemails while on vaction great, maybe that's what got you to the top. But if you need that "He fell off the face of the Earth" time, make sure you get it and it is understood by all. You got to protect your you time, if the world can get it from you cheap they'll take it.
One thing I'm trying to do is take my vactions the same times every year. This makes it so everyone knows what to expect and has to deal with it as a condition of being in relationship with me. It also makes me accountable to myself and family. I have to be gone at that time no matter what.
If you think that's bad, just wait till your parents get old and expect you to take them in and then spend 24/7 taking care of their every need, including changing their diapers and wiping....
My wife deals in elder housing and she sees this every day.
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I can empathize. When I started out about 5 years ago, I was really workin' it - being woken up by clients' calls (they kept office hours which started early, whereas I would've ended an edit close to midnight the night before) and dealing with requests even after I'd left the office and over the weekend.
Now, I'm taking it a little slower and give myself the leeway to prioritize my tasks at hand. If I take every phonecall that comes, I'll never finish my edits (the woes of a Preditor) - and the edits now come first because slots are scheduled and budgeted so they should be given due respect. Clients know they can reach me very easily via email (and receive prompt response) so that communication channel is still open. In fact, I personally prefer communication via email because I can control my access better. Besides, most requests require me to do some checking, so I wouldn't have been able to answer immediately on the phone as well.
To me, having mail access via my iPhone is more of a good thing - but it depends on how I control my email usage. I would regularly check my mails on my commute to work so that I could start planning what to do once I get in. But I try not to let it bug me too much if it involves some difficult requests.
I recently came back from a 5-day beach vacation - first proper holiday in 2 years! The away message was set the day I left, stating I would have little access to the Internet, though I did buy some wifi time to check my mails. But other than that, I left instructions to contact my colleague if there's anything urgent. The other thing I did was to put in extra hours 1-2 weeks before to make sure I cleared all my work and sent it along to the clients, so that they could take the time I was away to do their reviews. So it takes some planning.
The uninterrupted vacation was much-needed... and really helped cure the burnout that had accumulated. I do find myself being more productive and alert post-holiday.
I'm thankful that most of our current clients do understand the importance of work-life balance - and would wish me a happy vacation!
Now, I'm working towards a more evenly-spaced vacation schedule. As much as I love what I do, enduring waves of burnout is no fun. I try to rationalize that I always bring my 'A' game to work instead of just plodding through, so I should've earned some well-needed downtime.
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Communicating with your regular clients before you go and planning the extra time to wrap things up are the keys.
You should also plan some extra time when you get back to take care of what ever came up when you were gone.
I thought I had my last vacation planned perfect. I had everything finished up before I left and had a nice project schedule for right when I returned. All my regular clients wished me well and I was off. After I got back I had a bunch of things pop up from when I was gone for the week. It made the following two weeks rather busy and I felt like I needed another vacation.
Why is it we have to work twice as hard for three weeks, just to get one week off??
[Glenn Grant] "Why is it we have to work twice as hard for three weeks, just to get one week off??"
I think this is covered in burnout 101. I always come across people who take a 3-6 weeks vaction every year. They're the ones with a money tree growing in their back yard and don't seem to have a care in the world.
They say "...you really don't have a vaction unless your gone for 2weeks"...
I say "...must be nice."