Has the Disconnected Vacation Become Extinct?

By Deb Perelman  |  Posted 2008-05-28

Has the Disconnected Vacation Become Extinct?

Since the advent of the PDA-and to a lesser degree, cell phones and laptops-workers have been decrying the end of vacation as they know it.

Technology has given employers the ability to reach workers at all times in all places-making it impossible for employees to maintain boundaries between times off and being on-the-clock. The villains in these equations were a combination of pushy bosses, workers with poor time-management skills and wireless connectivity.

However, reports and studies increasingly suggest that many workers simply can't disconnect. One in four workers said they plan to stay connected with work while they're on vacation this summer, a percentage that has nearly doubled in the last two years, according to a survey released by CareerBuilder.com May 20.

The bulk of these hyper-connected workers were in the IT industry. Beat out only by sales workers, 37 percent of IT workers said they planned to check in while away.

Yet while IT workers also led the way in the requirement to be connected in the off-hours-19 percent said working, checking voice mail and/or e-mail while on vacation was mandated by their employers-the reverse of this is that four in five IT workers are checking in with their jobs while on vacation on their own volition.

So if they're not required to, why do IT workers stay in touch while on vacation? The answer to this may lie as much within the various rationales given by workers as it does with the newly blurred line between time on and time off. 

A recent study found that for many, being connected all of the time is a borderline obsession for some.

The Solutions Research Group study found that 68 percent of Americans feel anxious when they're not connected in one way or another. This "disconnect anxiety"-feelings of disorientation and nervousness when a person is deprived of Internet or wireless access for a period of time-affects all age groups, describing their feelings when offline as dazed, tense, inadequate and even panicked.

The study also found that 63 percent of BlackBerry users admitted to having sent a message from the bathroom.

In fact, this concept of "technology addiction" has gone so far that U.S. psychiatrists are considering adding this "compulsive-impulsive" disorder to the next release of the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) in 2011. 

Workers Rationalize

Many workers said that even though they haven't been required to stay in touch, they feel obligated to just the same. However, those that once did so because they felt this type of pressure are often the ones who have fought back the hardest.

"I don't do it anymore and wouldn't if asked," Gary Clarke, Seattle-based technologist told eWEEK, after admitting that he used to feel compelled to.

Others have accepted that even though they cannot be completely out-of-touch while out of town; they can still impose some structure on the communication and have shifted their boundaries.

"The only thing I check is e-mail, and every now and then I call to ask what my mailbox looks like... Other than that; nothing. I need my time off to recharge," one Northern Virginia professional told eWEEK.

Bill Nigh, an IT professional in New York City, said that he just checks his e-mail while on vacation, as he would prefer not to have a lot of surprises when he returns. However, he also understands that the boundaries between work and personal time have blurred, and tries to compensate where he can.

"I mix a little bit of leisure into my work week, with nice long walks in the middle of the day to recharge, so I am not in 'vacation demand' by the time I go on vacation," said Nigh.

Some admit that they're naturally antsy, and that "lying on the beach and having nothing to do" isn't always all that it's cracked up to be.

"For me it's usually curiosity; check how the project is going, how my colleagues are doing, if anything interesting happened," Erik Roeslofts, a coder based in the Netherlands told eWEEK.

"I don't feel compelled to check in; and even less compelled to actually DO anything at all, but a short, friendly chat-up with some colleagues to me can be more relaxing at times [than vacation]." 

Yet all of the reasons given by workers for staying in touch when they're scheduled to be out-of-the-loop dance around a simple fact: The clear demarcation that once existed between work and personal life has all but dissolved.

Somewhere along the line, vacations became a stressor for a certain type of worker, not a relief, as many workers admitted they are more worried about what they missed when they were away than they were able to enjoy the free time.

"Unfortunately for some workers, getting away can add unnecessary stress to their lives," said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of Human Resources at CareerBuilder.com, who noted that 12 percent of workers said they feel guilty when they are on vacation and 6 percent were sure that it could lead to them losing their jobs.

The four out of five IT workers who said they'll be checking in with work while they're on vacation this summer even when their bosses have not required it, are very much the embodiment of this stress.

More and more workers are lately stepping forward and suggesting that being able to unshackle themselves from their PDAs and laptops while on vacation is actually a sign that they're doing their job well.  

"If you prepare to be away in advance, your organizational skills may impress your leadership team and allow you to take a truly work-free vacation," Haefner said.



Rocket Fuel