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The Last Word: The Disconnected Vacation

Wherever your holiday destination may be this year, leave work behind and enjoy your time off. After this winter, you’ve earned it.

March 10, 2014

I'm staring out my window at 2 feet of snow on the ground. Another 6 inches is expected today with more on the way this weekend. We momentarily escaped the dreaded polar vortex, climbing above 20 degrees for one day this week. Short-lived though; we’re unlikely to see 20 degrees again for the next week.

It’s been a tough winter here in America’s Heartland, along the East Coast and even into the Deep South, where colleagues have regaled me with harrowing tales of 2 inches of snow and slip-slidin’ down icy interstates. Stormwatch 2014, Atlanta!

As friends in northern Wisconsin scold me for whining about our weather — “Minus 4 is short-sleeve weather here” — I respond that Frostbite Falls must be one tough town, which doesn’t make Chicago feel any warmer to me.

Though you likely won’t read this until after Punxsutawney Phil’s shivering shadow slinks back underground to allow some measure of thawing to commence, 2014’s frigid temps have fast-forwarded many a snow-blinded mind from cabin fever to the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. I’m more inclined to drift back to a recent trip to 43 wonderfully warm degrees in Oregon, where a stroll in sneakers on grass rather than trudging through thigh-high snowdrifts in boots never felt better.

Be honest: When was the last time you unplugged during a vacation?

Wherever your holiday destination may be this year, leave work behind and enjoy your time off. After this winter, you’ve earned it. Are you trading a blanket of snow piled high on the front lawn for 54 inches of fresh powder on the slopes? Then ski right past that keyboard and cozy up next to the lodge’s fireplace. Headed to the Jersey shores this summer? Fuggetaboutwork.

Ah, you say while shaking your head, preach all you want about unplugging under a palapa in Puerto Vallarta. It just ain’t happenin’ in this globally connected, do-more-with-less work world. Indeed, an Expedia.com survey last year revealed that 67 percent of Americans remain hooked to their offices via email or voicemail while on vacation. Perhaps worse, the average employee left four vacation days on the table in 2013.

Lest my spouting to take your full allotment of vacation makes you think I have my head in the clouds and am tripping off to some castle in the sky, I fully admit that I am among the two-thirds of workers who just can’t tune out. I have a disconnect with disconnecting from work.

Unfortunately, as Expedia’s survey reveals, I’m not alone in my dysfunctional attachment from work. But like perpetually inflated gas prices and the Cubs never winning anything, many of us are resigned to work days off while on holiday.

As my colleagues Ladan Nikravan and Ed Frauenheim adeptly addressed recently in their ongoing saga of the stressed and pressed employee, we’re still living in a work-more economy. And with today’s 24/7 connectivity, we’re also taking work-more vacations.

Be honest: When was the last time you completely unplugged during a vacation? Didn’t bring a laptop along, left your tablet on the kitchen table and didn’t peek at your phone to check your favorite industry blogger?

A CEO’s list of tips I found to unplug while out of town included limiting yourself to checking email once a day. Sure, and give a smoker a single puff. Whether it’s a cig or an email, one just is never enough. Read one email that needs a response, and you’re locked in for the next two hours. I know; I’ve been there. “Hi, my name is Rick, and I’m addicted to email.”

I recall a former colleague who joked that his then-supervisor, an in-the-office-at-the-crack-of-dawn, out-after-all-had-departed kind of boss, reminded him of the king who was convinced he had to turn the handle so the sun would rise and be there to crank it again so the sun would set. It was a wonderful lesson in the value of self-importance … or lack thereof … that I keep telling myself I need to remember when I take time off.

Like that last doughnut in the kitchen, my habits on holiday are potentially unhealthy. Several studies show that a lack of focused vacation time is hard on your heart. In fact, women who did not vacation annually were almost eight times more likely to develop coronary heart disease or have a heart attack than those who did.

Unplugging is hard to resist and using all of your time off is difficult considering our workloads. I’ve actually gotten better. I eased back on work when I recently hit the Oregon Trail, though I still needed a nudge from a colleague on the other end of Instant Messenger telling me, “You’re on vacation. Go enjoy your family.”

Good point. Playing dinosaurs on the floor with a 3-year-old is a lot more relaxing than powering through a screen full of emails. And in this work-more economy we all could stand to unplug ourselves for more-fun vacations.

Rick Bell is Workforce's managing editor. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com. Follow Bell on Twitter at @RickBell123.