You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Do you work on vacation? You're not alone

USA TODAY USA TODAY 28/12/2015 Charisse Jones
file pic© Carey Hope/Getty Images file pic

It's the holiday season. Time to sip egg nog and gather with family and friends.

For many business travelers, completely unplugging during a holiday break — or any other vacation — is tough to do.

"I've responded to a client email from the dinner table on Thanksgiving, reviewed proposal decks while my family opens presents Christmas morning and led an emergency conference call from the secrecy of the downstairs bathroom during a friend's birthday party,'' says Jason Pollock, an IT consultant in Brooklyn who is a member of USA TODAY's Road Warrior panel."With all of the innovations in mobility and connectivity, my office is anywhere I have phone reception.''

USA TODAY ROAD WARRIORS: Join our frequent traveler panel

Such conveniences can have a downside, he says."These advances are great for many reasons, but I've found it hard to draw a distinct line between my work life and my personal life,'' he says. "Keeping nights, weekends, vacations and holidays sacred has always been a challenge."

Many members of USA TODAY's panel of frequent travelers say they feel the same way. They mirror the broader public, many of whom feel pressured to never power down, even when they're supposed to be taking time off.

A 2014 report from Project: Time Off, an initiative spearheaded by the U.S. Travel Association and others to make American employees and workplaces appreciate the benefits of vacation time, found that 67% of workers are discouraged, given mixed messages or are neither encouraged nor discouraged from taking time off.

It  found that more than four in 10 Americans said last year that they had left 3.2 vacation days on the table. Sixty-three percent of senior business leaders said they stay connected to work when they are away.

"Particularly high-achieving people, or people who are able to work from anywhere ... have extreme difficulty disconnecting from their work while on a vacation,'' says Christine Carter, an author and sociologist at the University of California-Berkeley. "And when they do disconnect, they feel guilty and anxious about it.''

Not unplugging is a mistake. "We know for starters vacationing can increase happiness, reduce depression, lower stress, and for people who take true vacations, productivity will increase before and after the vacation,'' Carter says. " If you take care of your own needs first, for emotional well-being, you'll be a much stronger performer in the workplace.''

For many, that's easier said than done.

Road Warrior Andrew Naugle, a health care management consultant who lives in Seattle, says he never completely disconnects from work when he's away. "I typically divide my day so that I can work in the morning and then take off the afternoons,'' he says. " Doing this enables me to take much more vacation than I would otherwise. If I had to actually be 100%  ... away from the office, I don't know that I could ever take any vacation."

That means he's popped out of the pool to join a call. He recalls that once he and colleagues "rented a beach cabana and used it as an office for a few days.  ... It's hard to have a bad day at the office when you're watching the waves roll in. You just have to keep sand out of your laptop."

Katie Jackson, a Road Warrior who is a freelance writer and media specialist based in Billings, Mont., has to be "on'' all the time in case a client calls or wants to check her progress on a particular project.

It has led to some missed moments on vacation and even some uncomfortable situations.

This year, she says, "I was on an incredible wooden Turkish gulet, cruising around islands in the Mediterranean, but I couldn't tell you the names of them or what they looked like because I was on my laptop cranking out an article on how to reupholster an antique chair.''

When she  visited South Africa, Jackson kept close to her driver, though she didn't particularly care for him.

"Despite the fact that he made me uncomfortable and I couldn't stand his personality, he had a mobile hot spot in his pocket, and I was able to use it to stay on top of emails,'' she says.

Road Warrior Mindy Hull, CEO of a public relations firm in San Francisco,  notes how the advent of different technologies has impacted her vacations.

In 2003, "I went to Bali on holiday, and nobody contacted me because I didn't take my cellphone and Wi-Fi was really expensive,'' she remembers, adding that Skype wasn't available either. "I went back to Bali 10 years later, and that wasn't the case. Wi-Fi was everywhere and cheap.. ... There (are) very few places where you can really get away from it all and be off the grid."

Sometimes, you have to take the bad with the good, says Scott Revo, who works in marketing and events management and lives in Nashville.

"When you're returning calls and emails from a Disney park, you know it's not a true escape from work,'' he says. "But when you're in the midst of a big project, you have to do it. ... Sometimes it's not a bad trade-off to take a few minutes to keep the work moving forward in order to gain the time away with friends and family."

For those who want to take a truly work-free break, Carter has a few tips. First, put things in place, so you can completely disconnect. "Do not rely on your willpower,'' she says. Pinpoint a person who can handle critical matters in your absence, or have a single person who can contact you in an emergency.

To resist the temptation to check email, consider temporarily deleting the email app. Make sure you have time to actually rest on your trip rather than spending the entire vacation hiking mountains or touring every museum.

When your trip is over, give yourself a buffer day between getting back home and heading back to work.

"Plan your re-entry ... so your first day back is joyful rather than hectic,''  Carter says.

Road Warrior Meredith Lowder doesn't need any coaching.

"It's not hard for me,'' says Lowder, who works for the airline industry and lives in Winston Salem, N.C. "We typically travel to destinations that don't have the best cellphone service, so we end up only using our phones to take photos instead of talking and surfing. It makes for a much better trip in the long run because we can focus on the present and enjoy."

Besides, she says, "I can't concentrate on how well my skin is absorbing the Vitamin D while on a conference call."

More From USA TODAY

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon