When Is a Vacation Not a Vacation?

Americans are more connected than ever before, including while on vacation. But is staying tethered to email and work deadlines while taking time off a good idea?

It’s the middle of August, a time when many are taking long-awaited summer vacations. But for some Americans, vacation no longer means being completely unplugged from work.

Almost 60 percent of U.S. employees regularly check email, take a work phone call, or more while on vacation, according to cloud network provider Pertino. In its survey of more than 1,000 U.S. employees, Pertino found that 36 percent of Americans are working at least once a day while on vacation.

When you go on vacation, go on vacation. With very few exceptions, no one’s life depends on 24/7 availability.

A similar study released this summer also found that more than half of Americans plan to work while on vacation, and 83 percent reported that having to work while on vacation is becoming more common. Respondents to the survey reported, somewhat obviously, that they aren’t happy about having to work during their time off. Thirty-four percent said they would do work asked of them, but not happily. Meanhile, 29 percent would feel like their boss did not respect their time, and 24 percent would worry about their work/life balance. (A small minority also reported they might throw something, cry, or quit their jobs.)

Besides reducing anger issues, research suggests that taking time off provides benefits not only to your health but to your ability to problem solve and innovate.

Several studies have illustrated that vacations lead to lower mortality risks in men and lower rates of heart attacks in women because they help reduce the effects of work-related stress. Research from Tel Aviv University also found that those who completely detach from work while on vacation benefit more from their time off.

Vacations can also provide much needed perspective or psychological distance, which in turn can increase creativity.

In an Indiana University study, researchers asked two groups of students, one studying abroad in Greece and the other studying in Indiana, to name as many modes of transportation they could come up with. Students studying abroad were able to name a larger number and more original modes of transportation than the on-campus students, suggesting that by removing oneself from normal routines and projects, individuals can inject a new level of insight into problem solving and thinking.

Unplugging for busy association executives can be difficult, however, as Elizabeth Engel, CAE, CEO and chief strategist, Spark Consulting, wrote in Associations Now in December. But the rewards to sanity and health are worth it.

“When you go on vacation, go on vacation,” Engel wrote. “With very few exceptions, no one’s life depends on 24/7 availability. This is particularly tough for association executives. We want to be responsive to volunteer leaders and members. Many of us work in small-staff organizations, where redistributing responsibility, even temporarily, is nearly impossible.”

Be open to setting boundaries and carving out time to switch off, Engel added. “To paraphrase Mary Oliver, it’s up to each of us to own our choices about how we invest our ‘one wild and precious life.’ Choose intentionally and wisely.”

Completely unplugging from work may not be for everyone, though. In its survey, Pertino found that 47 percent of Americans are less stressed on vacation when they can stay connected to the office. And another study found the ability to check in with work helped some people ease back into their work routines.

Are you taking a vacation this summer? Do you plan to completely disconnect from work?

Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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