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!

Long service leave: Just a really good idea.

When was the last time you took a break from work? I don’t mean two weeks off at Christmas, or adding a day to a long weekend, I mean really took a break from work. To the point where you are so far removed from your daily work routine that you have to check your phone to see what day it is. Can you remember what that feels like? Can you recall that feeling of being able to climb out of the morass of deadlines, and performance reviews, and endless & unnecessary meetings, and take a look at your life as a whole? To capture what drug addicts and alcoholics refer to as a ‘moment of clarity’ and make it last for hours on end.
Probably not.
In fact our lives are geared in exactly the other direction. Our work follows us everywhere on our phone. We’re working longer hours and we’re not being paid for them. Most of us are only two missed paycheques away from defaulting on our mortgage or rent. And we’re so jealous of the lives that everyone else is enjoying on social media, that we are simply resigned to putting our heads down at work and hoping that it eventually all pays off…and that the family we have neglected in order achieve this pay off, still wants to spend time with us when it does.

What we all desperately need is an escape hatch, a get out jail free card, some time to focus on the things in life we neglect because of work…and we need to get paid while we do it. In short, we need long service leave!

For those outside of Australia and New Zealand, long-service leave is basically 2 months of leave that you are entitled to after 10 years of working full-time for one organisation. It’s a throwback to when English people had to come and work in Australia. When they had worked for 10 years, they were entitled to sail back to England, stay for a few weeks to catch up with family, then sail back to Australia…all on full pay.
For any Millenials reading this, a full-time job is a bit like one of the three part-time jobs that  you’re currently working, except that you work at it all of the time and it offers some security, which is good when you want to get a mortgage. A mortgage? Well that’s when you go to the bank to borrow money to buy your own home. Your own home? Well…sorry, that’s a figment of your imagination…and did you know that we have set up an economy that means that you will be the first ever generation to earn less than your parents? You’re welcome.
But back to me. Having being made redundant from two of the three full-time jobs that I had enjoyed after leaving Uni, and absolutely hating the third. I chose to take a job with the Victorian Public Service (VPS). I promised myself that I would only be there for two years, as I was terrified of becoming an ‘institutionalised public servant’ who would never be able to find work outside of the VPS.
10 years later, I was still in the VPS. Thus proving that I am truly a man of my word. But more importantly, I was now a man with 12 weeks of long service leave available to him.

Just hanging out in Bayeux, reading ‘Madame Beaute’.

Feeling the serenity of Chateau Villarceaux

In 2016 we went for a 3 week campervan journey through Queensland, and at the moment we are spending three weeks looking after a B&B in Normandy, before heading over to the UK for two weeks. I know that, just like Queensland, this trip is going to be an incredible experience for our family. The kids will be exposed to new cultures, new languages and new ways of life. They will get to see the versions of Mum and Dad that aren’t stressed out about work (I can tell you categorically that they are a LOT more fun), we will get to bond as a family unit, I will get to spend time taking photos and making videos, and Katie gets to see the fun guy that she married, rather than the financially neurotic handbrake that gets to spend her life with normally. In short, we get to be the family that we want to be, and we get to do this because of long-service leave.

Taking in the view at Mont Saint Michel

Now I know that the more conservative voters amongst you will be saying ‘Well that’s just great Chris…but you know what? It’s not up to your employer to be providing you with this. They give you an income and annual holidays. That should be enough.’ To be honest, the Catholic guilt part of me agrees with this. Certainly the part of me that got made redundant twice, knows that a full-time job is something to cling to…especially if you actually enjoy it. But I think that these feelings are actually symptomatic of a bigger problem; we’ve all started to believe that our role in the economy is more important than our role in society. We’ve all borrowed more than we can afford, and now we’re at the whim of ‘business’. We can’t afford to be unemployed, so we keep working longer and longer hours, with no relative rise in income, while those at the top earn eye-wateringly large amounts of money, and it pisses us off. So we get angry in traffic, we retreat to our phones to see how everyone else is doing, and we see that, according to their Facebook posts, life is just peachy, and so we get pissed off again, and when the Government tells us that the real problem is refugees, we think ‘Yeah, that’s why my life isn’t what I want it to be’ and suddenly we have people like Peter Dutton in charge of Immigration and Border protection…and that’s pretty bloody bleak place to be.
But you know what could break this cycle? An extended period doing what actually makes you feel good as a human being. Some time travelling, some time following a passion, some time not in the 8-6 grind (we all know the 9-5 grind is ‘aspirational’). Some time being the person we want to be.
So yeah, maybe your job doesn’t owe you long-service leave…but  you know what? You don’t owe your job all of the work you do outside work hours…but you’re still doing them. So let’s just call long-service leave a slight re-adjustment of the ledger.

Seconds later…important lessons were learned.

French life is tough…tough I tells ya.

Now before I start to sound too much like that annoying 2nd year Uni student who has just discovered Marx. There are of course myriad reasons why taking a long break actually makes you a better employee. If you’ve travelled, you may have picked up a new language, if you’ve followed a passion, you will almost certainly have developed new skills, if you’ve spent 6 weeks painting the outside of your house…well…you’ll be a lot less likely to complain about whatever work you come back to. But I can guarantee that by doing something different for an extended period, you will have created new neural pathways. In short, you will be able to think differently, and you will be able to problem solve better.
Sure you might spend the first few days back at work weeping at your desk as you wade through a sea of unread emails…but after that, you’re going to be a better person, and therefore employee, than you were when you left.
Also, don’t ever underestimate the value of your ‘organisational knowledge’. In any organisation there is ‘the proper process’ (ie ‘what they tell new employees’)…and there is ‘the way to get things done’ (ie what you know after 10 years of working in an organisation). I know that over the course of 10 years at DHHS I have learnt how to get in contact with most of the key decision makers…and most importantly I have forged good relationships with all of their Executive Assistants, so that if I need something done in a hurry I can at least get an audience with someone who can make it happen. There are hundreds of these little communication channels that only open up after you have served your time in an organisation and shown your worth, and they save your organisation large amounts of money every year…so just see long service leave as your organisation’s way of saying ‘Thanks for making us more efficient’.

This is happiness

In an era of fewer and fewer full-time jobs, and of people moving jobs more frequently, the number of people who are actually going to work for 10 years in the one organisation is no doubt dwindling. But for those of us who do have it, for the love of God use it! You will never regret taking a holiday. You will never be as; young, energetic, enthusiastic, adventurous and capable as you are right now. Don’t put it off. Don’t sit on it like some bizarre nest-egg. Don’t worry that your job wont be there when you get back. Just do it! Book that holiday, go to that place that you always wanted go, do that thing that you always wanted to do. Be that person you’ve always wanted to be!
You’ve earned it.