Today's vacation gear: swimsuit, snorkel, and fax

Nearly every summer, greg Ganoff and his family vacation at their lake home in Michigan.

It's practically tradition.

This summer he'll spend two weeks in August skiing, sailing, swimming, floating on inner tubes - and answering countless e-mails.

In fact, Mr. Ganoff usually works up to four hours a day on vacation, checking voice mail, messaging people, and buttonholing clients. He usually doesn't even tell them he's on vacation. Just "traveling."

"There are enough demands in the business world today that I can't leave the office for two weeks without taking care of clients," says Ganoff, sales director in Ft. Lauderdale for a high-tech imaging company.

In a world of instant communication and overflowing in-boxes, Ganoff is more the rule than the exception.

Forget about relaxing, decompressing, and recharging this summer. More than ever, vacationing Americans will be up to their laptops in sand, surf, and corporate memos. The trend is hardly new, but it's accelerating fast. It's another example of how the boundaries between work and personal life are vanishing in a culture that prizes competitiveness and productivity.

The long-term impact, however, may be a work force that's getting worn out.

"Organizations have no restraint about asking people to take work on their vacations or even to forgo their vacations," says Jerome Rosow, president of the Work in America Institute in Scarsdale, N.Y.

The numbers tell it all: A 1998 AT&T survey of 604 adults in the US found that at least half check voice mail, e-mail, and make work-related calls while on vacation.

And a study released this month by Management Recruiters International of 5,000 executives reported that 82 percent work while on vacation. Some 13 percent shorten their vacations because of the job.

The signs of people working while at play are everywhere. Yosemite National Park in California has multiplied its telephone lines at the Tenaya Lodge to accommodate hikers - many of whom come off the trail toting laptops. "They need a shave, have red hikers' necks, smell like a camp fire, and are almost frantic because they've been out of touch so long," says Jonathan Farrington, the lodge's sales and marketing director.

People are even mixing work with mouse ears. "This morning we had a stockbroker in here from 7 a.m. until 1 p.m.," says Betty Rodriguez, who runs the business center at the Disneyland Hotel. "In order for him to bring his family on vacation, he had to be able to work while they were at the park. He's becoming more typical."

Ganoff sticks to a strict schedule while at the lake to keep up with the office: Up at 6 a.m. (before his wife and two teenage sons) to check e-mail and voice mail. Then again after lunch. Then a third time in late afternoon. "My wife knows where I am at least three times a day," he laughs. "And my sons would be suspicious if I weren't with my laptop, pager, and cell phone."

The simple fact is that many Americans just have too much work to do. If they let it go for more than a day or two, the piles start mounding over the Cross pen set. "In business today you need to maintain contacts with work during your vacation," says Mr. Farrington, who's not without his laptop when he takes time off. "Otherwise, you get so far behind that the vacation becomes dreaded rather than looked forward to."

Business now moves fast - sales decisions, he says, are made in "minutes rather than days." He can't afford to be out of contact. His bottom line: "I could spend a week working 80 hours to get ready to go on vacation so I don't have to communicate with the office. Or I can maintain my same schedule of 55 hours a week and briefly touch base with the office daily and return to virtually a stress-free environment."

SOME complain how taxing it is to be reachable on vacation. One Los Angeles consultant got more work than she wanted on a recent week-long trip to Florida for a wedding. "Two to three hours of work turned into two to three days" because of a deadline change, she says, requesting anonymity. "Finally I had to call a colleague and say, 'You deal with this now because I have to go to the rehearsal dinner.' "

For others, vacations become a time to finish work that they find too hard to do in the office. Jan Diamondstone, president of Software Boutique, a multimedia development company in Wilmington, Del., does getaways to complete projects that require a lot of "writing and thinking."

"I will schedule myself time away in a hotel in Florida and do it, and have some time around the pool," she says.

None of this is surprising to Cindy Aron, author of a new book, "Working at Play: A History of Vacations in the United States."

"It's not a new story," says Aron, whose book traces vacationing from 1800 to 1940. "It was 19th-century Americans who invented vacations, and they were not comfortable with the idea at all." (Even she took a laptop to the beach house on vacation to work on her book - about vacations.)

Many are concerned about the implication of all this on workers and families. "We restore ourselves on vacation. That's why companies implemented them to begin with," says Terry Bond, vice president of the Families and Work Institute in New York. Working on vacation "disrupts a person's personal and family life."

Even Ganoff admits he needs a total break once in a while. In the fall, he and his wife often take a one-week cruise - sans cell phone and pager. But he still checks in with the office ... every other day.

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