The Case Of The Missing Vacation

This is the time for daydreaming about your annual vacation. Sounds enticing.

But when it comes to actually taking time off, a growing number of us become downright ambivalent. ("Paranoid" may be more accurate.) Concerns about job security creep in. If the boss can get along without me for two weeks will he decide I'm not needed? What will happen to my projects when I am gone? Will my colleagues undermine me? And there are large numbers of us who are addicted to work. They'd rather work than be on vacation.

The result is that almost one-third of us don't take all the vacation days we have earned, according to Expedia.com, the online travel agency. Some 14 percent do not take any vacation time at all.

In addition, there's an army of men and women who are so hooked on their work that they can' leave it behind. When they are supposed to be on vacation they are not really on vacation. They stay connected to their work via the umbilical cord of technology. Some 32 percent check their voice mail or e-mail every day away from the job. It is the rare bird indeed who can be away from the office for two weeks without checking in two or three times "just to see how things are going." Many employers are enablers of this kind of behavior as they strive to get more work for the same money.

Instead of feeling refreshed by time away from work, hordes of us dread coming back. We know the e-mails have piled up, the to-do list has grown and there is the general catching up. There may have been shifts in the power structure.

A Sobering Thought

This sort of commitment to the job may be necessary in some cases, but there's no escaping that it is often counterproductive. Efficiency drops off and workers' health is put at risk during long periods of unbroken work.

The Framington Heart Study shows that women who took two of more vacations a year had a 50 percent lower chance of a heart attack than their counterparts who didn't take time off. In the case of men, annual vacations reduce the odds by about one-third.

Your Vacation Guide

The facts are clear. Time away from the job will improve your efficiency and help accelerate your career. In the end, personal down time will benefit your employer as well. Hopefully, you have the courage and wisdom to act on this axiom.

You can help assure that your vacation times serve their best purpose by establishing seven conditions, advised Ramon Greenwood, senior career counselor at www.commonsenseatwork.com>

1. Come to grips with the fact that you are not indispensable. Nobody is. If it only takes a few days off the job to demonstrate that you are dispensable, then you probably are. If so, better to find out now and deal with it.

2. Reject the macho idea that long hours with your nose to the grindstone demonstrate strength and commitment. What you produce at the end of the day is what counts. The dumbest ox needs time out of the yoke.

3. Plan your next vacation in advance. Hold to the date. If your employer forces you to cancel your vacation make sure there is a good reason. Absent a reason, consider whether you are working in an environment that will nurture your growth.

4. Establish a plan to cover your responsibilities. Do work in advance. Delegate. Advise those with whom you work of your plans and what you expect to happen while you are away.

5. Leave a contact point where you can be reached with a "gatekeeper" who will respect your time. Don't check in with the office. They'll call you if you are needed. Don't panic if they don't contact you. Take satisfaction that your vacation plan is working.

6. Flush work out of your mind. Put the components of your life in perspective. Recharge your batteries. Read things totally unrelated to your work. Get plenty of rest.

7. Be prepared to double your efforts when you return from vacation to catch up and go ahead with your work.

It's well to remember that there is no record of anyone wishing on their deathbed that they had spent more time at work.

Ramon Greenwood is former senior vice president of American Express; a professional director for various businesses; a consultant; a published author of career related books and a syndicated column. Senior career counselor for http://www.CommonSenseAtWork.com>

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