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I was promised more vacation – but can never take it

THE QUESTION

I was recently lured back to an organization by an old boss with an offer of additional vacation weeks and a promise of a better work-life balance (I left previously due to overwork). However, after two years, the ability to take vacation has all but disappeared and I feel I've been lied to. When I do take a day off, I am bombarded with urgent e-mails that require immediate responses.

I have been assigned to numerous projects requiring me to always be on call. If I don't help, I am labelled unco-operative. While I appreciate the trust he places in me, I am frustrated that other employees take long vacations and don't have to deal with extra projects.

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I have started a job search, looking for an organization that pays more attention to employee workloads and life balance. My boss has been less than receptive to work-life balance conversations in the past, citing that he worked much longer hours in his career.

The decision to return was entirely mine. However, if part of my compensation is more vacation that I'm never able to use because of workload, I'm thinking that the employer has not lived up to its contract. I'm convinced the employer was just trying to get its "work mule" to return.

THE FIRST ANSWER

Sandra Safran

President of Sandra Safran HR Services, London, Ont.

If you did not have a signed hiring agreement, including vacation details, you have learned a tough lesson. Nonetheless, your boss should know that he can't legally deny you paid vacation indefinitely. You may also be entitled to overtime and "on-call" pay. Request your vacation time well in advance and remind him of his promises and legal requirements.

Good managers should train their staff. I hope that you have a candidate whom you can coach to answer project questions. Brief him or her on the status of your projects and typical solutions. Also discuss which areas should be directed to you and how often you will reply (not 24/7 and only to queries from him or her). Define what constitutes an emergency. Introduce your stand-in to the people who depend upon you.

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Perhaps your staff feel that they have to ask advice for everything. Encourage them to formulate solutions when they ask for advice so that problems become learning situations. You will benefit from their increased expertise, and you will have fewer demands outside work hours.

If these actions do not work, continue your job search.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Zuleika Sgro

Human resources partner, talent manager, Questrade.com, Toronto

Within any organization this is a growing concern, in terms of disconnecting to take a vacation and what ground rules you set about how and when you need to be contacted – if at all while you're away. My advice is the following:

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Analyze what you enjoy about your role and what you don't, and why.

If work-life balance is your highest priority, bring this up with your boss in a constructive manner and work with him on a solution. If, ultimately, you decide to resign, you will both know that you tried to fix it first.

Start by establishing guidelines and back-up plans for when you are away. Help your boss get into a routine of contacting others for some issues that he'd normally contact you about. Do this even when you are in the office as an opportunity to cross-train those who will cover for you. This will give your boss more confidence in those people and give you a break.

Work with your boss to set expectations. Ultimately, decisions need to be made and tasks completed, but as long as you both work toward that goal, the manner in which this gets done – how and by whom – shouldn't matter.

Got a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that mine field? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com.

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