The nightwatchman

For those of you not living somewhere the English colonised, or without an interest in Cricket…it’s pretty important for you to know what a ‘nightwatchman’ is in Cricket.
So brace yourself for a paragraph of Cricket talk…but I promise it will get interesting after that.

In Test Cricket, the 4 or 5 day version of the game (sadly yes…there is a sport that goes for 5 days. And yes, even more sadly, it can sometimes end in a draw after 5 days), if a batting team loses a wicket with not much time left in the day’s play, they will often send in a ‘nightwatchman’. This is someone who is further down the list in terms of batting skills than the person who was meant to be coming in to bat. The logic is, it’s better to save the person with the good batting skills for the next day when they can start fresh, than run the risk of exposing them to a few overs at the end of the day.
So the role of the nightwatchman is basically to not lose their wicket. If they want to score some runs, great! But ultimately, they will be seen to be doing their job, if they just occupy the crease until the end of the day.

So why am I giving you a fascinating insight into the nomenclature of a Cricketing term? Becuase there is a workplace equivalent…and it happens over the Christmas/New Year’s period, when senior people in an organisation take a holiday and someone needs to fill their position while they’re gone.
Now clearly ‘backfilling a role’ is something that happens through-out the year, so why is the Christmas/New Year’s break different? Well, becuase it’s a rare time of the year when a lot of people go on holiday, so the usual demands and stresses are alleviated…and the talent pool available to act in roles is greatly diminished. Or as I like to see it, ‘Chris’s time to shine!’

For as long as I’ve worked in the public service, I’ve tried to help out by backfilling these roles, and being a nightwatchman…so I thought I’d talk about some of the reasons why.


Speaking as someone who usually exhausts their annual leave balance by the end of the year, and who took long-service leave as soon I could, I think it’s fair to say that I think that time away from work is a really good thing. You’re not an ’employee’ you’re a ‘person’, and time away from work helps you remember that. Best of all, a good holiday will usually see you return to work invigorated and with a new perspective you can bring to projects.
Sadly, quite often, the further up the ‘org chart’ your job resides, the harder it is to take a proper break. Meaning that people who really need invigoration and new perspectives, often find excuses as to why they ‘just can’t take a holiday right now…not with *insert name of project that seems important right now to a few people, but really isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things…and will most likely still be there when you get back from any holiday you take* so close to rolling out’.
But the two weeks after Christmas are a time when everyone expects people to go on leave…all your boss, or boss’s boss, needs is a safe pair of hands to hold the fort while they’re away.
They don’t need someone to make ground-breaking decisions, or try to do their job better than them…they just need someone to be there if needed. And I’m very happy to be that person.

Purely selfish

If you like people starting emails with ‘Thanks for getting back to me’, then you’re going to love the way people treat any form of email that you send when you’ve updated your email signature to ‘A/Important Person’.
You will also get to work and talk with people who have decision making power within your organisation, and that can be great for future prospects.
You will also most likely be paid more while you’re acting in the role.
You can update your LinkedIn profile with the new job title, and that will trigger notifications being sent to your network suggesting people congratulate you on the new job. Although, rest assured, if you’re filling in that role for anything less than 6 months and updating your job title on LinkedIn…I am judging you.


If you’re the ambitious type, who is always looking at the next step on the career ladder, then acting in your boss’s role can you give you an insight into what’s required if you want to move into the role when the opportunity presents itself.
Alternatively, if like me, you’ve come to realise that each step up the career ladder leads to a reduction in hands-on creativity, and more importantly, less time in your day to do things you actually want to do (spend time with your family, exercise, not spend time in meetings that clearly could have been emails, etc). Then acting in a role above you for a few weeks, can be a wonderful reminder of exactly why you don’t want to take the next step up the org chart.


You only grow by challenging yourself…but you also don’t want to bite off more than you can chew. So taking on a new job can be like signing up for a half-marathon, whereas acting in a role over Christmas/New Years is more like doing a Parkrun, it’s a challenge, but you’re never more than 5km away from the finish.

The downside

Of course, there are times when the proverbial hits the fan…and suddenly you’re in the hot-seat (or at least a seat closer to the heat than you would normally be). While acting in other roles I’ve had to deal with everything from bushfires, floods, & COVID restrictions, to Premiers wanting to send an email to all staff on New Year’s Eve (I’d booked a table at a restuarant for the whole family at 7pm and was still desperately trying to co-ordinate things from my mobile as the food arrived) and a change of name for our Department that required every document, template and webpage to be updated with the new logo (good times…good times).
You will also have to make the choice between heading in to the office and facing the appalling coffee offerings available when the baristas of the world are on holiday, or staying at home and being the sad person sitting on their computer all day while the rest of the household is on holiday.

So if you’re up for a bit of a challenge, or if you want to help your boss out, or even if you want to see if you can survive on Nescafe Blend 43 for a few weeks. Then I highly recommend taking up the option of acting in a role over the Christmas/New Year’s period…I’d go into more detail, but I’m on holiday now while the rest of you suckers are back at work, which is of course the other massive upside to working over Christmas / New Years!