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Stressed out in the sunshine

Getting away from it all ... or catching up on paperwork?
Is there an acceptable level of work intrustion while on vacation? Have your say
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Global Office

LONDON, England (CNN) -- For European workers the summer vacation season is here. Yet new research suggests that many are not enjoying the full recuperative benefits of a fortnight in the sunshine, while some find it the busiest and most stressful time of their working year.

Eight out of 10 workers questioned in a survey by Office Angels recruitment consultancy admitted working an average 25 hours extra in the weeks surrounding their break.

In the same survey five years ago, just 70 percent said they worked 20 extra hours.

For a third of workers the days leading up to their vacation are the most stressful of the year. The same amount said they received no support from colleagues resentful at having to pick up the extra work.

One of the major consequences of this additional stress is that workers find it harder to unwind at the beginning of their break. Rather than leaping straight from office chair to deck chair, two thirds said they allowed up to three days to unwind.

Nor is the aftermath any better. Eighty-six percent said it took just three days for the holiday glow to wear off.

And by the end of the first week back, eight out of 10 workers said they were as stressed as if they had never been away.

"The importance of having a break from work shouldn't be underestimated," says Office Angels managing director Paul Jacobs. "It boosts productivity, motivation and all-round well being.

"Employees need to ensure their staff do get a proper break from work during their holiday and shouldn't expect them to take work with them or contact them unless absolutely necessary."

Ironically, one of the main problems hindering employees' chances of a work-free holiday is the development of technologies designed to increase employees' control over their working lives.

While Blackberries, pocket PCs and mobile phones have made it easier to stay in touch with the office, the danger is that workers find it difficult to switch off even when they are supposed to be away from the office.

Poolside phone calls

Three-quarters said they had been contacted while on holiday, an increase of 15 percent in five years. And, while in 1999 most workers resented having to work while on vacation, a majority now expect to handle phone calls and emails from the poolside.

More than a fifth admit working while on holiday, due mainly to anxiety about their job and a desire to reduce the workload awaiting them on their return to the office.

However, there are signs from across the Atlantic that things may be improving with a sunnier business climate.

A recent survey by the American Management Association showed that more than a third of employees planned to take some work away with them, and a quarter said they would be in daily contact with the office.

But Americans are also planning to take more time off this summer than a year ago. More than a quarter said they would be taking more vacation days while 39 percent of employees planned to be away from the office for more than a week at a time -- up by a third on last year.

"Over the past few years downsizing has shifted additional responsibilities to smaller staffs, making it difficult for many employees to get away," said AMA vice president Manny Avramidis.

"We are now beginning to see a shift in this trend as the job market and the economy improve. Fears of being laid off appear to be subsiding so that more employees feel comfortable about using their well-deserved vacation days this summer."

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