Taking vacation: Can you leave the job behind?

Rachel Zupek Farrell,
Workers are back to reality -- and their desks -- after some much needed time off this summer. Well, at least some workers took time off.
Twenty-four percent of full-time workers surveyed reported they couldn't afford to take a vacation this year, up from 21 percent last year, according to a CareerBuilder study of more than 5,600 workers.
Of workers who did plan to take a vacation, 30 percent plan to work while on vacation, while another 30 percent say they will contact work while they're away.

"Taking advantage of vacation or paid-time-off benefits is critical not only to your well-being, but to your overall job performance," says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder.
"Workers who set aside time for R&R tend to have less burnout, more creative energy and higher-quality output. While financial challenges and heavy workloads may make vacation planning difficult, it's important to find time to recharge away or at home. It can ultimately translate into a more gratifying work experience that benefits you, your family and your employer."

The real question is why do people have such a hard time taking time away from the office? Do they feel guilty? Are they worried they'll be fired? Do they not trust those who will be in charge during their absence? Or do they just love work so much they can't bear to walk away, even for a day?

I asked workers about their vacation and relaxation habits -- or lack thereof -- and why those habits exist. Here's what a few of them said:

"Taking time off is something that I gradually learned to do over the years. I used to not only work long hours, but I'd also throw myself into volunteer projects and just kind of be a workaholic at whatever I did. Slowly, it just started sinking in that by not giving myself a break, I was making myself less effective at the things I was trying to do.

"I have no problem working long hours when I need to, but I've become fairly adamant about taking vacations and not working AT ALL when I'm off: no cell phone, no email, nada. Look at one work email and you get sucked into the vortex and relaxation disappears. I often arrange to have at least part of my vacation in places where electronic distractions are unavailable, as a sort of guarantee that I really do detach from it all for at least a bit. 

"It helps. I always return to work more alert, energized and productive. Burnout doesn't have to be collapsing in a crumpled heap; it can be much more subtle -- every day becoming a slog because you haven't had time to recharge." -- Bruce Mirken, media relations coordinator, The Greenlining Institute
"My wife and I own and operate two Internet properties. We have been entrepreneurs for many years. WHAT IS TIME OFF? 

"I vacation frequently; however, I take my laptop and work a minimum of 15 to 60 minutes each day. I am not so foolish to think that everything will stop without me. Family has always come first, and I never missed a soccer game, dinner, vacation or spending time with my wife and children. When the kids would go to bed, I would choose to check in at work versus watching 'Desperate Housewives.'" -- Bob Shrilla, owner, Simply Bags and Keepsakes Etc.

"We are witnessing tough economic time[s], which is putting business executives in stressful situation[s]. Stress management is [a] key thing in today's time. What matters is mind control. We have so many positive and negative thoughts going on in our mind[s] that it becomes difficult to focus and concentrate. I take breaks in between working hours. I meditate for short periods, take deep breaths and shift my mind from mundane business matters to something pleasant, like vacations. This kind of relaxation helps me re-energize myself." -- Ajay Patole, Management Opinions of Ajay

"I used to struggle with taking time off early in my career. I found that when I would go away, I would be so tense it took me a few days to relax. Part of it was fear and desperation -- I can't let stuff drop. Several times when I would travel for work or vacation, I would come back and things had fallen apart. The negative experiences I had in the past and the eagerness to provide for my family at all costs made me afraid to let go.
"I would only have a day or so of relaxation before I would wind back up again in anticipation of going back to work. I was such a mess and hard to be around -- it wasn't worth the vacation.

"Now that I am an entrepreneur, I have more control of when and how long I can vacation. I still have to consciously coach myself to get in relaxation mode.

"I work my guts out while I am at work and play my guts out while I am on vacation. I try to have everything set up before I leave, so I can relax on the vacation.

"I do allow myself one work issue to think through while on vacation. If I think about an issue in relaxation mode, I can creatively solve the problem. I use those waiting moments on a vacation to think through the problem and the rest of the time focus [on] enjoying the vacation.

"I still struggle with whether to check emails every day or so, or come home to over 1,600 emails. This summer, I vacationed for 10 days in Europe and came home to all those emails. My flight home was stressful, and knowing I had 1,600 plus emails to answer added to the level of misery -- like jumping into a cold pool of water.

"I have found that over the years, vacationing and making time for loved ones is critical. I have made vacation a priority in my life and find that when I don't, I start living in kind of a desperate mode.

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