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10 tips for when your co-worker is on vacation

Even though summer is just about over, vacation season isn't. Often, your childless co-workers wait until now to go on vacation because many schools are in session, which means crowds and costs are down, but the weather is still great.

However, while your co-worker lounges on the beach, you're stuck in the office. It's all fair, given that you were on the beach while she was slaving away. Still, it's unpleasant. Here are 10 tips for making it less painful.

1. Plan ahead. Don't schedule important deadlines for the week your co-worker is out. If that isn't possible, make sure that you communicate early with your boss and your co-worker about getting everything ready before she leaves on vacation.

2. Don't just assume. Jim is out of the office, and you and Jim have the same job title, so that means you're responsible for his stuff while he's gone, right? Not necessarily.

Assuming you and Jim have the same boss, speak with the boss about who'll be taking on Jim's responsibilities for the next week. You may prompt your boss to say, "Well, if you can handle X, I'll have Steve handle Y, and Helen handle Z."

If you have different bosses, it's your co-worker's boss's responsibility to distribute the work load -- to her other employees. She needs your boss's permission to assign you tasks.

3. Let it go. It's not just a song, it's a way of surviving the vacation. Some things have to be pushed to the back when the full staff isn't there. Take a deep breath, and realize you'll have to get to it the following week.

4. Prioritize. If you're working in a restaurant, all the patrons need their food. But you don't need to clean the top of all picture frames this week or do an inventory of the countless boxes of plastic spoons in the back. Do the things that are important first, and if there's time for the other stuff, then do it.

5. Step out of your comfort zone. Cross-training is great for your career. The more you know about other areas, the more valuable you are. Volunteer to do something a little different to cover for a vacationing co-worker and learn something new.

6. But don't step too far out. Know your levels. Trying something new is great. But don't say, "Sure, I'll go install that new server while Katie is out!" when you're lucky if you can do automated updates correctly. Otherwise, you're just asking for trouble. Better idea, when Katie gets back, ask her to train you so that the next time she leaves, you can do that.

7. Keep in contact. Some people like to go completely off the work grid while on vacation. Others like to check in daily. For exempt employees, this should be a choice. (Nonexempt employees must be paid for work they do, including spending 15 minutes answering questions.)

If your co-worker is OK with being contacted, send an occasional email with your questions. Try to do this only once per day, and don't get angry if you don't hear back for 12 hours.

8. Keep the boss in the loop. If you're buried in work while your co-worker is out, make sure your boss knows. It's his job to help you prioritize when the workload is too great. It's also his job to assign tasks to other people, so you're not completely inundated.

9. Plan your own trip. Many Americans don't use all their vacation time. Make sure you're not one of them. While you're stressed with so much extra work while covering for co-workers who are away, remind yourself that you can take time off as well.

10. Stay positive. Your co-worker will be back in a few days, and everything will return to normal. You can survive a week of craziness if you remember that your co-worker got her week of craziness when you were gone.

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