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Vacation Vigilance…Attempting to Unplug in the Digital Age

by | Apr 14, 2011

When I was in my 20’s, I left a software company in California to move back to the east coast. Upon my departure, the company owed me four months pay for untaken vacation, as well as flex time (overtime). Over the past twenty years, I’ve reversed that trend. I still use very little of my paid time off (PTO) for illness, appointments, etc. (one benefit of not having children), but I do take my vacations these days!
Now I know with the turbulence of the job market and the economy these last few years, many business professionals have felt pressure to constantly be in touch with the office, put in extra hours, and shorten vacations to long weekends (at best) so as to seem invaluable and not lose their positions. I’m fortunate to work for a firm that understands the need to take breaks to keep your psyche (not to mention your wife and family) happy and healthy.

When I talk ‘vacation’, I don’t mean bring along a laptop/tablet/NASA-connected smartphone/whatever to remain plugged in and check email and take phone calls every ten minutes. (My ex-wife tried that once on one of our sojourns – one of the main reasons she is now my EX-wife.) I’m talking a real vacation – unplugged and unwound – time to rest, relax – see the sights (whatever they may be) and partake in fun activities (wherever they may be). Of course this will vary from person to person – but the bottom line is that Americans have the hardest time taking time off of any industrialized nation.

Ever been to Europe and witnessed firsthand how the people there deal with the passing of time – they’re more relaxed during their working hours than we are during time off! Americans get the least amount of vacation time compared to other affluent economies – just 13 days on average – whereas Italy gets 42! (No wonder the Italians created so much cuisine, culture and civilization – they had the time)!
I’m pretty good at unplugging when not at work – I have a basic flip (non-smart) phone, very basic cable television, and no Internet access at home (there is a business center on-site at the apartment complex if I choose to work from home). Of course, for all of this I frequently get unmerciful criticism from those more connected to technology than I – but I have yet to miss an important call, email, text or show (thanks to Netflix). And on vacation – only the calls get through – the rest can wait – gotta stop and smell the roses as the song goes. (Wonder whatever happened to Mac Davis anyway)?
Next week my wife and I will be embarking on a week away to sunny Florida, and after this New England winter, we really can’t wait! Neither one of us will ‘check in’ with the office, we trust our colleagues to cover for us just as we do for them when they’re away. Reciprocity is a wonderful thing…
So when you get away – disconnect as well. Leave the laptop, set your ‘out of office’ assistant, forward your voicemail, stop the mail and papers, turn off the phone – and take a real vacation – like the rest of the world does…
And don’t worry; those emails (and other assorted messages, memos and missives) will still be there when you get back…count on it.