> can't fill positions...everyone is encouraged to use vacation,
How in the heck does that work? You don't have enough people and still allow vacation time? That doesn't sound likely. I'm a developer in my early forties and nearly all of my friends are developers, but I can't remember any of us ever taking an entire week off. If you can't fill positions as you claim (and I believe that part), how can people take time off?
The feature backlog gets longer and estimates for new features get longer... as we add people, then we can finish features faster. Isn't that how most sane companies do it? I don't see how putting a moratorium on vacations is sustainable in the long run -- each week of vacation is 2% of a FTE, if that 2% is all that's keeping your company from failing, then you should start looking for a new job now.
Also, you don't sound very important if you can take three weeks off.
Your company is in a precarious position if no one can take time off -- there should be enough people cross trained that you can take off work without having work come to a screeching halt because you're not there. Making everyone a critical resource that can't be replaced is a terrible way to build a company and will lead to huge problems when a team member quits (or is sick) and suddenly no one can fill in.
Everyone on our team works hard to make sure that none of us are "very important", so yes, I am proud to say that I am "not very important" -- there's no excuse for having a single point of failure on a team, no one team member should be indispensable, and if he is, then he's not doing his job by cross training and writing documentation. Vacation is a good way to test this out -- it's better to find out sooner rather than later where the coverage gaps are.
I've had to cancel at least six vacations that I can remember since I graduated college. I have always been paid back the deposits I lost and have always gotten good bonuses in exchange, but if you don't have enough people, it isn't logical that you let people just not work.
We don't let people "just not work", we let people take time off for vacation, it's not like they are paid to sit around in the break room in a corner all glassy eyed.
I'd never think that a bonus was fair compensation for canceling a vacation, perhaps that's why I can take a vacation and you can't -- you're happy working at a job where you'll accept payment to cancel a vacation, and I'm willing to work for less money but have a more sane working environment.