When you go on vacation, do you actually go on vacation, or does work tag along? Has our culture made it impossible to really get away?
As I prepare for a vacation with my family, I plan to have my smartphone in tow, and I’m sure I’m going to check in with the office. It’s hard not to.
For one, there’s the sheer volume of e-mail to read and projects to keep up with. I can hear them piling up already, and I haven’t even left the office yet.
If I let days go by without pruning my inbox, I’ll come back to a teetering haystack of messages and tasks, and then spend hours sifting for needles and days playing catch-up.
For another, there’s the low-grade anxiety that permeates our modern economy. Am I working hard enough? Will my employer frown on me taking this time away? Will my colleagues think less of me?
When you combine this anxiety with the Puritan work ethic that’s ingrained in our culture, it creates a kind of toxic reaction--work isn’t just a part of our lives, it’s become our lives.
The imperative to work longer and harder is everywhere. For instance, it’s hard to read a profile of a industry titan or startup whiz without the obligatory paean to the insane number of hours they put in. In some sub-cultures, like finance and tech, the amount of hours worked takes on a moral or macho quality.
And even in the less-exalted echelons of the professional classes, chit-chat about the weather has been tossed aside in favor of the humbe-brag about how insanely busy we are.
These factors make it difficult to disengage from the office, especially when it’s so easy to bring the office with you wherever you go. And that’s a problem, because there’s a growing body of evidence that finds more work doesn’t necessarily equal better productivity.
I’m mindful of the value of disconnecting, and I’m going to do my best to trust that my talented and capable coworkers can muddle along without me (though only for a few days!). I’ll let the out-of-office message serve as a temporary shield, deflecting or delaying tasks while I play in the sand with my kids and pour wine for my wife.
I know I’ll be tempted to peek at my e-mail, because it’s hard to let go. But I also know the work will still be there when I get back, and it’s perfectly capable of taking care of itself for a little while.
If you’re taking, or have taken, a vacation this year, are you going to leave the office behind? Does your employer recognize the benefits of letting you rest and recharge? Or will the work come with you? And even if it didn’t have to, do you think you could let it go?
Drew is formerly editor of Network Computing and currently director of content and community for Interop. View Full Bio
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