We hear all this talk about how in today’s technology driven world, it is virtually impossible to completely break away from the office, even while on vacation. Through the use of electronic devices, whether smart phones, tablets, or laptops, we are able to access work emails, voicemail messages, documents, and files. We can participate in conference calls while on an airplane, a boat, or an island. It is impossible to get away from work while on vacation unless… you really want to!
The challenge for most of us is overcoming one or more of these four primary concerns:
- The fear of returning to the office and being completely out of touch with what’s going on, resulting in additional stress as we play catch up even if only gone for a week. Businesses operate at such a rapid pace today that even a few days away can leave you behind on a major project.
- The amount of time and stress required to return the 5,000 emails that have filled your inbox while you were away. Much of the time I am checking emails while on leave I am simply deleting messages that are unimportant so I can get back to the business of doing business when I return more quickly.
- The uncertainty around what could happen while you are gone or whether an unexpected emergency may arise that requires a response you should be involved in or even leading! I remember several years ago when our CIO was on vacation with his family and our organization suffered a major “technical malfunction” that required him to be on conference call after conference call for the entire week, while also coordinating mitigation efforts from hundreds of miles away. I felt terrible for him, but this real scenario exemplifies the fear.
- The concern for job security if it is determined in your absence the office can get by without you. God forbid someone sense you may be unnecessary!
If you can overcome all of these concerns, then maybe, just maybe, you can turn those communication devices OFF. However, getting past these fears can be difficult at best.
During my recent beach vacation, on top of reading two books that were work related (one on developmental leadership and the other on supply chain management) I also decided to try and count the number of times I checked my work emails from my phone or tablet just to get a sense of “how much” work I was actually doing while on vacation.
Much as I expected, while the number of times I checked varied daily depending on my level of “vacation activity“, on average I checked my work email about 30 times a day. Assuming I was awake approximately 15 hours each day, that means I checked my work email roughly twice an hour, every waking hour.
Some of you may think that’s a lot, others may think it’s very infrequent. I think it’s right about what I had anticipated. I didn’t always respond to emails that I read, but I responded to several; some by email, others by phone. I also read but decided not to respond to many messages until I returned, and deleted a great deal of those that remained.
What some may consider concerning (or normal) is that not a single work email went unnoticed while I was on vacation. And I neither have a CEO nor operate in an organizational culture that demands we work while on vacation. To the contrary, the opposite is strongly encouraged. But that doesn’t make the decision to avoid working while away any easier. When I was in Tokyo last year, I started checking my emails at 4AM because of the time difference. Healthy? Probably not. Typical? I think so.
The question is where should the line be drawn? Does “working” while on vacation really affect your ability to rest and recover? Should a company mandate that vacationing employees not “check-in” while on leave? Would not staying in touch with the office cause even greater stress for the reasons outlined above?
As we all know, thanks to technology, the 40 hour work week is long gone. Perhaps it’s time to admit that for the same reason a traditional vacation is also a thing of the past. What do you think?