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

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By Christopher Elliott

Planning to leave your smartphone or laptop at home when you go on vacation this month. Think again. Not sending emails on vacation 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.

Disconnecting is passé, which is bad — and good

In the sense that people really need a break, it’s bad. In fact, some forward-looking employers, including Mercedes-Benz, recognize the right to disconnect. Earlier this year, France passed a law requiring companies with more than 50 workers to establish hours during which employees must not send or respond to emails. But in the sense that a connection can be a powerful tool that can improve your vacation, it’s good.

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.”

The interesting thing about disconnecting from emails

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. 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.”

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“Just like you recharge your phone, you need to recharge your own battery with a real tech break,” says Ettus. Ettus 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.

Regrets reading her email while on vacation

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. 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.

Better customer service

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. She also uses her smartphone to do vacation planning. 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. 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?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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