Statistics show that more and more executives are unable to disconnect from work during vacation, which should be treated as what it is: a break from work.
While on vacation, business leaders may be getting away from the office, but they should focus more on getting away from work. During their vacation, more than half of senior executives and managers make themselves available to people back at work for day-to-day issues. In addition, more than three-fifths think about work and check e-mail while away, based on a global survey by NFI Research.
Senior executives are worse than managers at staying connected, with two-thirds of them saying they check e-mail during vacation. And businesspeople stay connected in more ways than one. Almost half check voice mail and use a computer, almost half use the Internet, and more than a third use a PDA, such as a BlackBerry. More than a third say they are contacted by work while on vacation, and a third call the office themselves.
"As hard as I try to make myself unavailable, there are issues that I need to be aware of in a timely fashion," said one survey respondent, an executive in the pharmaceutical industry.
Part of the reason to stay connected is the workload that awaits a person after vacation.
"My reason for checking e-mails is to avoid the avalanche that will fall upon my return," said one survey respondent. "In reality, it would be best to totally disconnect so that I come back with new energy. It is about managing myself."
Said another: "It takes me several days to put work issues out of my mind, and that is only after making special efforts to leave nothing undone before I leave. I do not normally have relief during my absence, so it's hard not to anticipate the work that will be waiting for me upon my return."
Most people taking vacation are familiar with the routine of working hard before and after vacation. "The stress at the executive level is before and after the vacation rather than during it, due to all the preparation and catch-up to stay in synch with projects and business partners," said one respondent.
Businesspeople need more of a break from work, not just the office, to get re-charged. One way to ensure a true vacation is to take one that creates enough distance to make office contact difficult, if not impossible.
"I found that the only vacation I took where I was almost unreachable and mobile phones did not work were cruises," said one respondent. "I recommend them highly if you have trouble cutting off contacts with your office and clients."
"Typically, when I vacation I leave the country, leave my mobile phone and choose not to access a computer," said another. "The only people who have access to me are my children. If I don't take the time away, I'm not able to get the total restoration I need to be the best I can."
Disconnecting does not always mean having to travel to another country. It could mean simply getting out of range of communications networks. "The only time I'm not available to my staff is when I'm out of mobile phone towers, and roughing it," said a survey respondent. "I won't take my laptop camping, for example."
Part of the reason people tend to stay connected could be a need for recognition of self-importance. "Some people want to stay connected to the office not because the office might need them, but rather because the individual can't stand the idea that he or she isn't essential to every day's work," said one manager. "Training and trusting those around you to make good decisions in your absence is far more difficult than long-distance control."
Since there typically will be plenty of work left to do when returning from vacation, businesspeople should treat vacations as what they are: a break from work for some rest and relaxation.
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