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TESS VIGELAND: Next week lots of you will head out on vacation as you celebrate the Fourth of July. I’ll be working, thanks very much. But at least it’s cut and dry: me, here, in the office. What I don’t understand are those of you who go on vacation but take the office with you.
According to recent surveys, fully one quarter of employees pack work along with the flip flops and sunscreen. And thanks in part to wireless technology, it’s now a heck of lot easier to stay in touch with work. But is it truly a vacation if you’re still logging hours on that laptop? We sent Marketplace’s Sam Eaton to find out.
SAM EATON: Ahhh vacation. A stroll down Boulder, Colorado’s Pearl Street, watching the entertainers, the musicians . . . and all the vacationing parents like Larry Cinadr sneaking peaks at their Blackberries.
LARRY CINADR: “You know, that’s the one thing about the Blackberry or cell phone. It’s almost like a leash. When you hear it go off, it’s almost like an automatic response after a while.”
Cinadr is a regional director for Toys ‘R’ Us in Hudson, Ohio. He’s in Colorado vacationing with his family, but says he still carves out time every morning to check in with the office.
CINADR: “Some of it’s more peace of mind for me, that I know that all that work and follow-up won’t be waiting for me when I get back from vacation. And generally, you know, I’m up early and my daughter and my wife will be sleeping in so the extra hour or two in the morning really aren’t taking away from anything we’re doing throughout the day.”
But talk to Cinadr’s 17-year-old daughter, Beth, and you hear a different story.
BETH CINADR: “This morning he had a conference call and we were all sitting in the hotel and we couldn’t even dry our hair because he was like ‘shhhhhh!'”
According to polls this has become the new reality for the American vacation.
Not only are people bringing work with them, many aren’t even going. Expedia.com’s 2006 Vacation Deprivation Survey found that, sadly, Americans have fewer vacation days than any other industrialized nation.
And even sadder, they don’t use the ones they get. The average worker leaves at least four days a year unclaimed. Liz Ryan runs an online forum for working women called WorldWIT. She says the reason Americans are giving up vacation time is simple: They’re afraid of being overwhelmed when they come back. Ryan compares it to that famous “I Love Lucy” scene where Lucy takes a job at the candy factory and can’t keep up with the conveyor belt.
LIZ RYAN: “When you leave a white collar job today, the candy keeps coming down the belt. It doesn’t stop. You know when I used to do business travel in the 90’s to Europe and we would look down our noses and say these people all disappear during the month of August, have they no sense of competition? Hey, they were a lot smarter than we are. Because when everybody goes on vacation at the same time, the candy stops coming down the belt.”
But chances are, there’s someone in the company who can take your place at the conveyor belt while you’re gone. Productivity expert and author, Laura Stack, says the problem is people are paranoid that their replacement will outshine them.
LAURA STACK: “People think ‘Well gosh if I go on vacation and everything functioned fine without me, you know, maybe they don’t need me.’ So there’s a little bit of a fear that I’m disposable, that perhaps I can lose my job if I show that I’m not committed by slaving away and never taking a vacation like the rest of these poor wretches.”
Stack calls this paranoia a holdover from the dot-com crash when layoffs were a daily occurrence. The economy recovered, but people didn’t. And then there are the technological advances. Those always-on, connect-from-anywhere Blackberries and laptops that tend to blur the line between work and home.
STACK: “We aren’t good as a whole as Americans in general at setting boundaries and turning off. We don’t turn off the outside world and what we do is let our technology control us rather than the other way around.”
Stack recommends turning off all of those email alerts and other distractions that come with each software and equipment upgrade. Or *gasp* leave the Blackberry at home. She says if you don’t forget what day of the week it is, that vacation really isn’t a vacation.
I’m Sam Eaton for Marketplace Money.