Hoping to relax after a vacation (Editorial)

Ah, summertime in Canada. For sun-starved workers across the nation it’s a chance to cash in that bank of vacation time, head out on the road for a trip, enjoy the cottage, backyard or park, spend time with friends and family, and just plain rejuvenate. You’ve worked hard, met deadlines and now it’s time for a week or two to relax and vacation away from workplace stress. Or is it?

Perhaps there was once a golden age when vacations marked a break from the hectic pace. In today’s time-starved business world holidays seem more like a cause of over-work and stress, rather than a relief.

Look around your workplace. Is someone hunkered down at her desk, coming in early, staying late, taking work home and cramming a month’s worth of meetings into one week? Chances are that person is getting ready to go on vacation.

The frenzy of activity that takes place pre-vacation causes such a productivity boost that organizations may even want to consider granting more vacation time to take advantage of the phenomenon that has employees frantically attacking projects, reports and responsibilities to clear time for a break. It’s a time when staff put their work-flow scheduling skills to the test in an impressive display of energy and multi-tasking.

You’d think that once the decks get cleared and someone actually finds the time to take a break, work could be left behind, but that’s often not the case.

Laptops, cell phones and PDAs find their way into vacation luggage as voice mail and the Internet bring the workplace to-do list to the beach. People may be away from work, but technology has too many checking in. Mentally, some people never leave work.

And then there’s the return to work. If there’s less than 100 e-mails waiting for a response (not counting the ones about making things larger or sending cash to Nigeria) you’re in luck. Two weeks off can mean an entire day (or week) spent clearing the e-mail inbox upon return. Then there’s mail, faxes, phone messages, questions co-workers have put off while anxiously awaiting your return and a stream of fast-approaching deadlines you have less time to meet because of that vacation.

Some people are finding vacationing so difficult that two weeks away is being replaced with taking days here and there to use up the time before the finance department complains about all the accrued vacation. These people are never away from work for more than a long weekend.

With workplace stress at frighteningly high levels, it’s a wonder employee assistance plan counsellors don’t recommend the cancellation of all vacations altogether. Besides the struggle to get away from work, vacations are expensive, going anywhere with children is an endurance test, pollution is destroying the ozone layer so being outside is unsafe, and then there’s West Nile virus. And a lot of the time vacations are just used to catch up on household chores and personal appointments.

So why bother pushing so hard to make room for a holiday? It’s too much work.

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