Still checking your work email on vacation? You’re not alone

If you’re planning to leave your smartphone or laptop at home when you go on vacation this month, you might want to think again. The unplugged getaway is so last year.

More than 62 percent of travelers say they plan to check their work-related email and voice mail, according to a new poll by the travel agency network Travel Leaders Group. Just 37 percent of respondents say they unplug, a precipitous drop from three years ago, when more than half of travelers said that they would go deviceless while they were away.

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Disconnecting is passé, which is bad — and good. It’s bad in the sense that people really need a break. In fact, the right to disconnect is recognized by some forward-looking employers, including Mercedes-Benz. Earlier this year, France enacted a law that required companies with more than 50 workers to set hours when employees are not supposed to send or answer emails. But it’s good in the sense that a connection can be a powerful tool that can improve your vacation.

Jessica Tsukimura can’t do without her connections because of the unavoidable reality that the world doesn’t stop when you’re away. Tsukimura, who just returned from Italy with her husband, says they both work in jobs where they must be reachable, “no matter what.” She’s the head of the New York office of a global branding and design agency; he works for a hedge fund.

“We brought one company phone and a personal phone,” she says. If there hadn’t been talk of a laptop ban, they would have taken their computer, too.

“We both checked emails once daily and texted colleagues as necessary,” she says. “But then we shut down our business communications. This ensured the vacation remained a vacation.”

That’s the interesting thing about disconnecting in 2017: People say they want to do it. A recent Hilton Hotels & Resorts survey found that 77 percent of travelers say they prefer a vacation where they are able to unplug from their life. But, ultimately, they don’t. And when they fail, only 10 percent say they’re embarrassed about obsessively checking their smartphones and laptops.

That’s not a real vacation, says Samantha Ettus, author of “The Pie Life: A Guilt-Free Recipe For Success and Satisfaction.”

“Just like you recharge your phone, you need to recharge your own battery with a real tech break,” says Ettus, who specializes in offering corporations advice on work-life balance. “But you can’t rely on your company or colleagues to set your boundaries for you. “That’s your job.”

Yet even Ettus acknowledges that a complete disconnect — say, leaving the phone home — may not be possible in 2017. Instead, she advises choosing a time of day to check email and messages and then closing your laptop for the evening. Keep the office work contained where possible.

In a perfect world, you wouldn’t check messages at all. Consider what happened to Anna Beyder, who works for an Atlanta-based technology company. On a recent vacation, she decided to log into her email account — and regrets it.

“I opened an email that I thought was totally harmless only to find out that it said that my office was relocating to another city and I was being assigned to a new manager,” she says. Although it didn’t ruin her vacation, “I wish I hadn’t opened it,” she says.

But it’s far from a perfect world. In a sense, leisure travelers like Beyder and Tsukimura are becoming more like business travelers, who don’t even go to the bathroom without a device. I’m not making that up. A new Skyroam survey says that 98 percent of road warriors use a smartphone “at all times.” Nearly 60 percent use a tablet computer and 70 percent carry a laptop computer.

In addition to being unrealistic, unplugged vacations deprive travelers of a valuable tool: Your device can help you resolve problems quickly and get better customer service.

Laura Barta says she uses her phone to get directions when she’s on vacation. Unplugging would mean leaving Google Maps at home. And because she’s gone for two weeks at a time, it also helps to keep a smartphone if “anything really urgent” comes along, says Barta, who runs a toy company in Hershey, Pa.

Perhaps the best reason to carry a device, even on vacation, is that it can quickly remedy a customer-service problem. Travel-industry employees — particularly airline workers — sometimes recoil in fear when you point a cellphone camera at them. The last thing they want is for their often rude behavior to be captured on video and distributed via social media. And a Facebook or Twitter post is often enough to get a service problem resolved in real time.

Of course, I don’t recommend trying this every time an airline or hotel employee gives you an answer you don’t like. But isn’t it nice to know you can record an incident if it happens?

12 thoughts on “Still checking your work email on vacation? You’re not alone

  1. I am self-employed so I am never unplugged. I take at least my mobile phone and tablet everywhere I go. No rest for the wicked.
    I do take exception to the statement of “often rude behavior”. I travel more than 75000 miles each year and take a variety of carriers. Maybe I am off in la-la land but I see more rude behavior from passengers than I do from airline employees/crew members. I do not fly AA and UA unless forced by circumstances so I do not include them in my experience. But I find that if I am nice to the crew/employees then they are nice to me. I looked up the letters I have written to airlines in the past five years and only twice have I found a reason to complain about an employee. Most of my letters are either complimenting an employee or noting something that went wrong on my trip–luggage, broken seat, etc. Maybe I am more tolerant than others but I have not experienced the “often rude behavior”.

  2. If you work for a company where you cannot completely disconnect from your job for your vacation, you are working for the wrong company.

    I can understand if you are the owner, CEO, or something similar that there might be a reason for someone at your work to call you in an emergency situation, but unless there is something really really wrong with your company there should not be an emergency requiring your attention every day.
    You should feel confident that someone at your company can fill in for you to at least answer questions in an intelligent manner. If you are concerned that you will be eliminated if you take a real vacation, then there are other issues with your performance as viewed by your company that need fixing (or you are hiding something incriminating that would surface during your absence).

    I make it a point to be sure my employer knows I require time off for vacation (following company policy for amount of time off and other conditions) and I will not be somewhere I can be reached during my time off even if I am just sitting on the couch at home. No job I ever had has needed me 24/7/365. Has this hurt my income and advancement? I am not disappointed at where I have ended up. One thing I do at work is insure I have at least one coworker who can answer any questions that might come up in my absence and can handle whatever work needs to be done. Will that person or those persons be as quick at handling the situation as I am? I hope they will, but I am confident they will give the correct answer or take the proper action even if they do take a little more time to get there.

    Do I like it that I will have 1,000+ emails and a few dozen voice messages waiting on me when I return? No, of course not. But those are easily handled (bulk delete ;-)). And I will take that in exchange for not even thinking about work for the time I was off.

  3. Disconnecting is great but there are times it’s just not practical. I like to keep up with news and current events on vacation so I always have a mobile device and a tablet or my laptop with me. As for work, I would honestly prefer spending 20-30 min a day on vacation triaging emails than showing up to work after two weeks and be overwhelmed with a couple hundred emails. For me, it makes landing back at work so much easier.

  4. It really depends upon what you do for a living, who else is working for you, etc. I strongly dislike these people that say you “have to” disconnect. If I am on vacation, I set it up so I don’t need to be reached and then make it so I can be reached. Then, when no one calls me, I know all is well. The point is that each person has to take the effort to set up their own way of having a vacation.

    1. This. I’d be much more stressed by the thought of unknown emails piling up while I’m away than simply checking in once or twice a day when I’m near the hotel wifi and seeing that no emergencies have popped up – and when I’m on vacation, THOSE messages then get forwarded to a colleague.

      Then when I get back to work, I don’t have that extra burden of having to wade through two weeks worth of email. I find it to be a pretty good balance.

      Of course, I say this as someone who, back in the dark ages before ubiquitous cellphones and blackberries, I took a vacation to a truly “off the grid” place in Mexico. That was the week all of the partners I worked for at my law firm announced they were leaving and moving to another firm (something that had been a highly guarded secret until the announcement). All of my boss’s questions before I left about “was I REALLY sure that there was no way to reach my while I was away?” made sense when I got back to some fairly frantic messages on my home answering machine that I needed to call another partner as soon as I landed, on the weekend, because my job basically didn’t exist anymore. (I moved with the group, but that was definitely an argument for being reachable while away!).

  5. I’ve mentioned this before, but if you do connect personally at all, say to check personal email, always bring your own device. Phones are great at this, and if you’re not using high-priced roaming there is no need to search for possibly sketchy public WiFi.

    Use hotel, library and Internet café computers only for browsing public sites, never to log on to any personal account. If you need to do online banking while on the road, your bank probably has a smartphone app which is a lot more secure than some unfamiliar PC that may beam your logon to Nigeria.

  6. I remove my work email account from my phone when I go on vacation. Otherwise I will be working all day. Vacation is vacation, not moving your office to the beach.

  7. I had a sales rep send me some paperwork and said to send it back asap because he was leaving for vacation. He then went on to say it was because he wouldn’t be able to look at it until his cruise ship was in port Tuesday (this was Friday).

    I replied have a good time I’ll send you the paperwork the following Monday.

    It’s crazy that people won’t disconnect or cannot disconnect from business life. Listen you want to look at personal stuff, ok great. But if you are on vacation you should not have to have an electronic leash.

  8. It is no wonder that those people in the Mental Health industry are so overworked. People who are obsessed with using their electronic devices throughout the day should get a life. Narcissistic people who have to boast or post on Facebook etc. don’t realise that they are destroying the social fabric of a civilised society. NO one NEEDS to be available 24 / 7, no matter what is going on. (especially on vacation) These same people are allowing children as young as 2-3 years of age to play with gadgets which over time will make them anti-social & poor at face-to-face communication. Leave the electronic crap at home & use your brain to figure out what to do instead. Look at the holes in all of your excuses & rationalisations & admit that there is more to this life than going through it with only one hand (ear?) free

  9. My wife and I went to Europe for a month where I was totally unconnected from work. I did a lot of planning before I went on vacation. I sent out e-mails and conference calls to 1) my remote sales team; 2) my department; 3) support; 4) corporate back office; etc. telling them how to operate in my absence; upcoming projects; any possible issuesproblems; etc. I had two peers handing my calls and e-mails. My Outlook Out-of-Office and voice mail were set up. When I got back…everything was fine…spent a day in reading the e-mails.

    My preference is to go on vacation and be unplugged from work (i.e. no work cellphone; don’t check e-mail; don’t check voice mails; etc.). I want to enjoyed my vacation. A few times, I have been on vacation with my family and I spent the entire morning responding to e-mails…I stopped because it is unfair to them. Unless I was working for a company that was paying me a lot of money, stock options, benefits, retirement, etc…I am not going to work on my vacation.

  10. “In addition to being unrealistic, unplugged vacations deprive travelers of a valuable tool: Your device can help you resolve problems quickly and get better customer service.”

    Isn’t the article about working (i.e. checking work e-mail) when on vacation? We bring our devices with us when we go on vacation to check personal e-mails; post pictures; get directions; get information on attractions; etc. I don’t bring my work cell phone or work laptop with me.

    It seems to me that article was written that everyone used their personal cell for work as well. I don’t use my personal cellphone for work nor do I store personal information (i.e. relatives or friends contact information, pictures, etc.) on my work cellphone or laptop. What if you leave the company unexpectedly, how can you retrieve your personal filesdata?

    I used to work for a large company (10,000+ employees) where employees could use their personal cell for work (you submitted your cellphone bill every month for reimbursement). They changed the policy because they didn’t want customer information on the phone in case if the employee left the company; they didn’t want a customer to call the cell phone number and not get service when the employee left the company; network security; etc.

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