Don't pack your work with the beach ball
Vacations are easy;
(CNN) -- We staggered back in to work to recuperate from vacation and knew something was wrong -- it was a relief to get workplace e-mail without having to dial first into an intranet.
Functioning as an outrigger office colleague while on holiday has become more commonplace, it seems, than the vacations, themselves. You know you're in trouble when the pre-takeoff announcement on the plane asking you to turn off your electronic devices sends you scrambling under the seat in front of you -- or up into the overhead bin -- to turn off the cell phone, the laptop, the Mobile Communicator.
So once we'd offloaded all that stuff (isn't it quaint to think of those days when a belt was there just to hold up your trousers?) we asked ETICON's Ann Humphries about this vacation-work business.
CNN: In fact, when we reached her, she was talking to us from the beach -- on vacation; working. Ann, Ann, Ann.
Ann Humphries: You know, as a matter of fact, I've just seen a cartoon that showed a guy at the office saying to another one, "The only time I can get anything done around here is when I'm on vacation."
This is where things are now. Rest has become work. In our society today, being available to your customers -- who may well be your co-workers -- has become a must.
But so much of this is self-imposed. Some people lose their families because of overwork -- only to find their jobs downsized. Many feel they have to generate income all the time, even on time off.
A few, however, are learning that there's a good reason for a sabbath from work. You don't get recharged, refreshed, rebooted, detox-ed unless you actually get out, get away and get down.
I've known workers who have canceled vacations, or sent their families on ahead to theme parks or the beach, while they stayed behind to work.
Mind you, a lot of these folks genuinely love their work. They don't mind working hard because they get recognition for it. But the reality is that at some point, it turns on them -- a change in boss can throw them into chaos, only to find that their family lives and friendships have been neglected and their usual support systems are thus in tatters.
This is a kind of emptying of the soul or personality, a clearing-out, when it happens. You don't have enough RAM anymore, your hard drive burns up.
It's a bigger issue than just programming your voice mail and e-mail for an away message. But that's a good place to start. Not with some "Hi, I'm out of the country so come rob my house now" message, but just a note on how people can reach BooBoo if they need immediate assistance by dialing 0 or whatever.
You know how you might tell a child, "You're grouchy, it's time to go take a nap?" Good colleagues basically will tell each other the same thing when it's really time for a break. And you need to take it for real. Don't shoot the messengers -- they may have a point.
Some people do simply have to stay in touch while on vacation, of course. We had a family member once who was stuck in a merger and it was just too high-stakes for him not to stay involved. But he did decide to take another vacation to make up for that one, once the merger had gone through.
When you're the one back at the office, try to be sure your staff leaves the people who are on vacation alone. You hear about people being beeped at 11:45 p.m. somewhere about a problem at work. Not good.
And when you're the one on vacation, if you find you're an addict and simply must stay in touch, try to compartmentalize it. Check your e-mails and things from 8 to 10 in the morning, then not again that day. Limit your contact. Because you need the rest.
Try to do more than three days of vacation at a time, more than a long weekend. It can take up to three days just to ramp down. Then three days ahead, you start ramping back up. Not everyone can afford that much time, and in that case you have to accelerate the relaxation.
Make it something completely different (as the Monty Python people would say), something that shifts your thinking. Even if you stay at home, the point is to shift gears, intentionally. You'll come back more productive and with more fun. You'll come back with more strength, more moxy. I don't jump out of planes on vacation or go over the side on a bungee cord, but I'll do a flip off a diving board to impress my teen-agers. That's to get some credibility with them, you know.
While you're out, think about how to resist taking on too much work. Are you really indispensable, as you may feel you are? If you are, is that helping you to develop your staff? Or is it hurting? Are you taking on the burden of giving your staff more breathing room than you get, yourself?
When you get back, have some stories to tell from vacation. This allows others to take vacations and enjoy them. "I haven't had a vacation in five years" is nothing to brag about.
Even with good stories to tell, coming back is depressing. Try to budget for it. You do have the blues. "This time last week I was in the Bahamas." Budget for the cranky part of that, the sad part of that, the manic part of that. One thing that can help is having another trip planned. A date on a calendar. A plane ticket.
Please try to relax. The Europeans make fun of us in the States about this, you know. So do the South Americans. Try seeing if you can actually get bored on vacation.
And if you're the one who's been at work while a co-worker was on vacation, don't dump on the returning vacationer. Give him or her some time to acclimate. You might even try saying, "We missed you."
Next week's topic -- gossip in the workplace.
Ann Humphries, founder and president of ETICON, Inc. and a Certified Professional Consultant to Management, includes several Fortune 500 companies among her clients. She's been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Fortune and Money, and on CNN, CBS and Lifetime TV. You can contact her at www.eticon.com.
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