HP hibernation

Sunday 28 December 2008

We’re about half-way through Hewlett-Packard’s two-week holiday shutdown. I like the time off: it’s an extended period to get away from the usual stresses of the work day and commute. The boys are home too, so everyone can relax their schedules and find new things to do with each other.

But HP’s policy is that the time is either vacation or unpaid leave. My group isn’t too strict on tracking vacation time. But if it were, I would be royally pissed at the company deciding I was taking my vacation in the winter instead of the summer. At previous jobs, I’ve always found the quiet time between Christmas and New Year’s to be very productive, I don’t doubt that it would have been here as well.

Especially irksome about the whole process is the email from the head of HR announcing the closure. After a few paragraphs of details and legalese, it concluded:

Shutting down during a period when many employees traditionally take vacation helps HP achieve significant operational savings and allows employees to enjoy more time with their families.

I find this happy-spin condescending (and repetitive: if you read the Globe story linked above, it contains the same sentence, uttered by a company spokesmodel). Whoever wrote this is probably a nice person. But if they had to deliver the closure news to a small group face-to-face, I doubt very much that they would have done it this way. They would have had to acknowledge that from the employee’s point of view, the closure might not be a good thing. Once the message gets put into a company-wide email from a senior vice-president, though, it turns into this sort of corporate zombie-speak. Why?

I understand a two-week closure is better than laying off more employees. I understand the company needs to take unusual measures in unusual times. But don’t treat me like an idiot. Why not say,

We understand this might inconvenience employees. We realize you may have wanted to spend your vacation time in the summer. We apologize. These are hard times, and we’ve had to make some hard choices.

Wrapped up in all this is the corporate model of earning vacation time that then becomes a liability on the company books until it is paid out. My understanding it that IBM doesn’t track vacation time at all, releasing it from the fretting over how much is being accrued and how to get employees to use it or lose it.


I despise the holiday furlough. I'm surprised, though, by how many people actually parrot that company line. Folks in some fields (sales and PR especially) can't accomplish much during this period, and other people with plenty of vacation time saved don't feel like they're losing.

Me, I agree with your whole post.
Your blog is a periodic reminder of why I like small companies. Come back to the dark side, Ned!
Regarding IBM's vacation tracking: it's one of the few things that IBM isn't draconian about. But they do track it to some extent. For example, officially there's no way to carry over vacation from one year to the next. It doesn't disappear but you accrue vacation in the next year at a reduced rate.
The company I work for doesn't force employees to take leave at any particular time of the year, which is great.

Instead, they do make a point of reminding the managers throughout the company that they need to schedule time off for employees as it isn't helpful for the greater company to have excessive amounts of annual leave on the books.

In my eyes, that is the best outcome as employees get the time off and the company gets a better number on the books - win win.
Ned, I agree with your post. When I worked for HP (2002-2005) we were forced to take a week off between Chrsitmas and New Year. My group was strict about vacation tracking. So effectively HP was taking 3 days off my vacation time (2 days were company holidays).
Yup, totally with ya on this one, Ned.

This sort of crude spin-doctoring has led to a society that is increasingly cynical and desensitized. It cracks me up every time I see a company or politician surprised by the backlash from people that are all of a sudden a lot less stupid than they they expected. How many times does this have to happen before they learn?

After 8 years of the Machiavellian subterfuge of the Bush administration, I think our society is placing a premium on people and institutions that are willing to engage in simple, open, honest communication. This change in tolerance and awareness may, in fact, be the best thing to come out of the Bush era.
thanks, ned. it's especially aggravating that it shouldn't be -- and isn't -- a holiday at all, not from this vantage point, anyway. we need smarter business practices than this.
For example, officially there's no way to carry over vacation from one year to the next. It doesn't disappear but you accrue vacation in the next year at a reduced rate.

I think this is because they got burned badly back in the 90's when they wanted to lay off some older employees. You had a lot of people with 5 weeks vacation (20 years) who just didn't need more than 3 weeks. So they rolled over 2 weeks every year. Five or ten years later, that's 10 or 20 weeks of extra pay that needed to be paid on top of severance. Expensive layoffs.

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