Even on vacation, Americans find ways to work

Marty Kotis insists upon taking a vacation every year - if you can call it that. Mr. Kotis, who owns a real estate development company in Greensboro, N.C., remains accessible to his office staff via one of two cellphones, personal digital assistant, and laptop computer. He even checked in with his office twice a day while honeymooning in France.

"For me, knowing that I'm accessible takes away stress," Mr. Kotis says. "Otherwise I would worry that something major could go wrong and I wouldn't know about it or be able to fix it."

While vacations were once treasured as a time to get away from the daily grind, more people today are settling for working vacations. In fact, working vacations are becoming chic, according to Lee Hecht Harrison, a global career management services company.

"People who deferred vacations during the depths of the recession for fear of seeming dispensable will finally take the time off that they're due," says Bernadette Kenny, the company's executive vice president. "But the lines between vacation and work will be increasingly blurred. Inexpensive cellphone plans and widespread Internet access have made checking in on the office and fielding pressing problems more commonplace."

A recent American Management Association survey confirms Ms. Kenny's prediction: one quarter of those surveyed claimed they would be in daily contact with their offices during vacation. Also, 40 percent planned to conduct some office-related work, and 44 percent were required to provide their offices with their itineraries and/or contact phone numbers while on vacation.

Still, there are some folks who refuse to be bothered during their annual sabbatical. Shel Horowitz, of Northampton, Mass., for one, believes in bona fide vacations. "Time off from work is truly important," says Mr. Horowitz, a communications consultant. "I learned that the hard way when my business was new and I worked a full month without a break. I was a mess by the end and I vowed never to let that happen again."

That was 21 years ago and Horowitz has kept that promise to his family and himself. In fact, he doesn't even work on weekends.

The need for a break is undeniable for anyone working a high-stress job, says Nancy Rosenburg, author of "Outwitting Stress."

"Just because your body is in a new, relaxing, exotic locale doesn't mean a vacation is at hand," Ms. Rosenburg says. "In fact, the time away, spent loosely tethered to the office via phone, fax, and e-mail, can be even more stressful than actually being there in the office."

There are two clear responses to the working vacation dilemma, says Kurt Sandholtz, principal of the Extraordinary Performance Group, Inc., a management-consulting firm in Orem, Utah. These responses fit into personality types described as "alternaters" and "bundlers."

"Alternaters prefer to focus on one thing at a time. They need vacations to be a clean break from work and get frustrated when an employer tries to encroach on their personal away time," says Mr. Sandholtz, coauthor of "Beyond Juggling," a 2002 book on work-life balance. "Bundlers enjoy combining activities in a meaningful way. These are people who love making family vacations out of business trips, and seem to move between the two domains with ease."

No rest for the rest

So while Horowitz could be termed an alternater, Ken Capps, vice president of public affairs for Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, is more accurately labeled a bundler.

Mr. Capps recently returned from a vacation in Hawaii. He schlepped along his laptop, cellphone, and Blackberry, checking e-mails and telephone messages regularly. He found it relaxing to drink coffee and check e-mail while his kids did belly flops in the hotel pool.

"I want to make sure that I can put out any fires that don't need to be burning while I am on vacation," he says. "It gives peace of mind knowing that everything is under control rather than showing up to the office after vacation to a crisis."

Clearly, carrying on business while away is not what was originally intended by the concept of a vacation, says Neil Martin, a labor and employment partner at the law firm Gardere Wynne Sewell in Houston. But the current thinking is that employees shouldn't let the time off become its own source of pressure as they try to play catch-up upon returning from a Detroit or Disneyland trip. "When business demands create the expectation that a worker on vacation will have time to handle a few matters while sunning on the beach, the saying, 'The best never rest' should apparently be changed to, 'The rest never rest,' " Mr. Martin says.

Thou shalt relax?

But Ben Dattner, an organizational psychologist in New York, says working vacations display a healthy confidence in co-workers as team members who are willing to cover for one another to accommodate breaks that help prevent burnout.

"Individuals who trust their teammates will also feel more comfortable taking a vacation without being worried that Machiavellian scheming will take place in their absence," Mr. Dattner says. "Ultimately employees should decide for themselves what is most necessary for their own peace of mind. Being commanded 'Thou shalt relax' by others can actually be quite stressful. Jay Leno hasn't taken a vacation in over 20 years, and he seems pretty happy with his career."

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