Americans work on their vacation

by Charlie Leocha on July 28, 2011

After I got out of the Army, I worked in Italy and Germany. The Italians seemed to take a vacation every day avoiding stress. But the Germans worked hard every day, except during vacation; then they worked at relaxing.

My German friends had a saying, “A three-week vacation is perfect. You have one week to get the noise of work out of your head, a week to relax and then a week to think about going back to work.”

Surprisingly, Americans don’t take their vacations as religiously as Europeans and then, when they ostensibly are on vacation, they manage to get in some work. I’ve seen far too many so-called vacationers with their noses buried in their Blackberries.

A new survey from Adweek/Harris revealed that almost half of Americans on vacation will be working when they should be relaxing.

Among Americans vacationing this summer almost half say that they will (or did) work on their vacation (46%). This number includes over a third who monitor emails (35%) and just under a quarter each who check voicemails (22%) or occasionally take phone calls (22%). An unlucky but very small 1% of Americans who are vacationing this summer connect with the sentiment: “What’s a vacation?” because they work as if they are not on vacation at all. Over a third of Americans vacationing this summer detach more fully and say they will not (or did not) do any work on their summer vacation (35%) while 19% were not or will not be employed at the time of their vacation.

Men work more than women and older folk work more on vacation than younger ones.

Men are more likely than women to work on their summer vacation (54% vs. 37%) and among different age groups the chosen vacation-working style varies as well. Vacationing adults aged 35-44 are most likely to say they monitor emails (47% do vs. between 24% and 38% of all other age groups), those 45-54 are most likely to check voicemails (29% vs. between 15% and 25%) and the youngest group, aged 18-34, is most likely to occasionally take phone calls (26% vs. between 17% and 22% of other age groups who do the same).

These statistics are actually lower than I would expect. Today, according to this same survey, more than 80 percent of vacationers take a mobile device with them. It might be a smart phone, a light laptop or an iPad (or some form of tablet computer). They use these to read, look up restaurants, get directions, learn about sights and so on. But, just having such a device makes it easy to slip in some work by checking on emails or reading a report that was being sent out. Amazingly, almost two thirds of vacationers surveyed said that having these devices does not make them more likely to work. I find that hard to believe.

In the survey results, Harris Interactive downplays the effects of working while on vacation.

Regardless if Americans choose to work on their vacations or not, hopefully they still find the time to do what’s enjoyable to them—some experts say the impact of even one great moment on vacation, like a unique activity or an incredible meal—can have lasting impact, create memories and make the whole trip worthwhile.

The most disturbing part of the survey is the question that asks, “Have you taken, or are you planning to take a vacation this summer (i.e., the peri od of time between Memorial Day and Labor Day)?”

That overall answer was 40 percent, yes; 48 percent, no; and 12 percent, not sure.

In my book taking vacations and getting away from the grind is imperative for any kind of creative thinking and overview of everyday work. Most workers can’t see the forest for the trees and such a point of view only makes work harder and more time-consuming.

Vacations are a time to stop. What are your thoughts? Am I off base on the importance of vacations. (Heaven knows, plenty of your think am off base on lots of issues.)

By the way, I will be working from Venice for the month of August. If you have any suggestions regarding restaurants, getting around or sightseeing, send them along. I’ll collect them and may create a column.

Photo: http://www.winandmac.com

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  • Michelle

    Just a few thoughts….

    I never understand why Americans work on their vacations or worse do not take all their vacation time.  Growing up, my father advised me to create a work environment that could survive without me for awhile.  That is a mark of a good manager, well organized employee.  I think these “hard-workers” are maybe poor organizers and/or need to work smarter.  If it is from a survival aspect (“my boss requires I work”) maybe it is time for a new boss?   

    A classic sign of an internal fraud is an employee that works on their vacation or never takes time off.

    Just becuase I take a mobile device, or two, with me does not mean I am more likely to check in on work.  Those are my devices and my vacation time.  Why use my time and resources to work for free?  This may require longer days before/after time off, but I would probably work those hours anyway.

    Working on vacation might make more sense if Americans had more vacation time.  With so few days annually (I am guessing 2-weeks) why not truly enjoy them and get away from the everyday?

  • Manisfeld

    As a Brit who has lived in the US for over 30 years, what is most disturbs me is two points:

    a. Americans are entitled to pitifully less vavactions that most Europeans – in many companies 3 weeks after working 10 years with the company; contrasted to Germans who get 4 weeks vacations, French who get 5 weeks and Swedes who get 6 weeks – all from day one by law;

    b. Most Americans I know never take all their allowed vacation time, with many using vacation time as extra sick days or personnal days to use as emergencies arise.

  • Frank

    Germans work hard?  yeah, ok.  but, they also know how to LIVE IT UP between work and vacation. 
    They have the Octoberfest, Dark-beer fest, Spring fest, Fasching (german halloween) and a beer garden on every corner (akin to our Starbucks). 

    PROST.

  • Gary

    We desperatly need laws to require paid vacation time for every employee of any size company. We also need rules to ensure that employees can actually use their time off.

  • Anne

    But for some of us who are self-employed, not checking in can be a real hardship for clients, and can result in a loss of business.  I manage to check in for an hour or so every couple of days when I am on vacation, and that lets me stay relaxed knowing that things are under control.  Being connected also makes it easier to work from home if I need to wait for a plumber.  Upsides and downsides!  BTW, if you asked me if I was taking vacation this summer my answer would also be no.  I try to avoicd summer vacations, and take them during the school year to avoid the crowds (and heat). 

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  • Paul

    You nailed it right on the head. For us Americans it isn’t a question of not wanting to take vacation, but rather most of us get 2 weeks off (if we’re lucky) and that includes sick days and personal emergencies. Try to take the 2 weeks back to back and you’re also likely to get a lot of complaints from upper management. I use all of my vacation days every year, but I do not get to do half of the vacations I would like because we just do not get enough time off and when I do take it I usually am not allowed to take it back to back.

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