To Work or Not to Work – Why Working Vacations Are a Bad Idea

“There should be sympathy cards for having to go back to work after vacation.” – Anonymous.

Let’s face it: a vacation where you spend any time at all working is not a vacation. And yet, working vacations have become a fixture of our workaholic society. We’re already hobbled by the lowest average number of vacation days of any major industrial nation, so you’d think Americans would avoid work like the plague while on vacation — but we don’t. Most of us feel obliged to at least check in occasionally… even though, according to one recent survey, 47% of workers don’t even use all their annual vacation time.

Sadly, many of us are “encouraged” or outright told to keep in touch during vacation. Others feel an unstated pressure to do so, while some don’t want to seem like slackers, don’t want their teams to realize they can do without them, or worry things will fall apart while they’re gone. Some even know they’ll come back to a mess, because it’s happened before. Others fear the pile of work and the game of “catch-up” they’ll have to face if they leave for even a few weeks.

But your personal and team productivity may fall apart if you don’t stay away while on vacation. Consider just a few things that can happen:

  1. Emailing from vacation can irritate people, especially those not on vacation. Either you seem like you’re too disorganized to prepare properly for your time away, or they’ll think you think they can’t do the job without you—and they surely don’t want to hear from you while they’re stuck in the office. Besides, if you work during your vacation, everyone else may think they’re expected to as well. Let them be and let yourself go.

  2. It undermines the very reason for vacationing. Vacations are intended for rest and recuperation, offering a period when you need not work or even worry about working. You also have the opportunity to do things you don’t normally do. If you can’t rest and have fun on vacation, what’s the point? Many people try to slip in work tasks between fun; but when you do, you end up exhausted. Something’s gonna give, and it’s probably gonna be you.

  3. You can’t recharge. How can you go back to work rested and ready if you never stop working? Only complete disengagement gives you the full benefit of a break, but with a workcation, every time you try to disengage from work and its worries, whoops, there it is again. You’re better off avoiding work entirely, so you have a chance to look forward to it again—and hit the ground running when you get back.

  4. It may limit your vacation options. If you or your manager fears you might have to rush back to the office to handle some crisis, are you more likely to go to Bora Bora, or just head to the nearest beach? I read about a couple who once drove all the way back from a timeshare on South Padre Island, Texas to mid-Kansas within a day of arriving, because they started worrying their business was falling apart without them, even though the staff was handling things just fine. They could have afforded to fly to Paris… but they chose the timeshare because they could get there by car.

  5. You’re a huge drag on anyone vacationing with you. When you’re working half the time, you slow everybody down or make them wait, or simply miss out on all fun they have instead of waiting around for you. It just changes the pace and your behavior. If you’re going to workcation, do it alone. But what vacation is fun when you go it alone?

Give It Up

The whole point of a vacation is to completely disengage from work, so that by the time you return, your slate has been wiped clean of all the clutter of daily worry and hassle. This lets you view your ongoing projects with a fresh perspective when you return. It may even shake loose new ideas. Meanwhile, you recharge your creative and enthusiasm batteries. By the time you go back to work, you may even be looking forward to it. None of these can happen if you keep working during your vacation.

About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

© 2019 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including FASTER TOGETHER: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity (Berrett-Koehler 2018). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and a member of its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at an upcoming meeting or event, call 303-471-7401 or contact us online.

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