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Even on vacation, many find it difficult to disconnect from work

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By Dave Olson

Forum News Service

FARGO, N.D. — Vacation.

It’s a word to conjure with, summoning forth images of sand, sun and inboxes.

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Inboxes?

Yes, inboxes, according to a recent survey, which found that while 95 percent of U.S. consumers plan travel vacations this year, many won’t be disconnecting from work entirely.

The poll by Travel Leaders Group, America’s largest travel agency company, reveals that although nearly all of the 2,719 U.S. consumers surveyed planned a summer getaway, about 49 percent expect they’ll be checking their work emails or voicemails while on vacation.

In addition, 38 percent expected to leave some of their vacation time on the table this year.

“What is most compelling is that the anecdotal stories about Americans not using all their vacation time and not completely decompressing from life at the office is reflected in our survey,” said Barry Liben, CEO of Travel Leaders Group.

An unscientific survey of human resource officials in the Fargo area reveals that a sizable percentage of workers in some area companies skip part of their available vacation time.

When the Fargo Moorhead Human Resource Association recently asked its 400 members how many of their company’s employees use 100 percent of their vacation time, 67 members of the association responded to the question.

Their answers indicate that just 6 percent of employees use 100 percent of their allotted vacation time, while about 34 percent of employees use less than half of their annual vacation allowance.

Unused vacation

Age is often a factor in whether workers fully use their vacation time, according to LeAnn Moos, president of the Fargo Moorhead Human Resource Association.

“More mature workers are simply more likely to not use their paid time off than younger workers,” Moos said, adding that “millennials” appear to place a higher value on uninterrupted time away from work than do longtime employees.

Next to health insurance, Moos said younger workers consider vacation time the most important employee benefit and seem to hold the view that: “If you’ve earned it, take advantage of it.”

Moos said that when it comes to trying to distance oneself from work, modern technology has made a complete break nearly impossible.

“I highly doubt that many people can completely disconnect — myself included,” she said.

“Technology has become a blessing and a curse in that aspect,” she added. “Many employees simply don’t want to be completely off the grid, organizationally and socially.”

‘Turn that phone off’

Gene LaDoucer, spokesman for AAA North Dakota, said he’s not surprised when he hears about surveys that show workers having a hard time disconnecting from their jobs.

“People are pretty much chained to their smartphones and communication devices, so the temptation is there to check in to make sure you’re not missing out on something at work,” he said.

“At the same time,” LaDoucer added, “there are supervisors and managers that may not lead by the best example and may be sending their employees emails and communications while they’re on vacation.”

LaDoucer, who admits to checking his work email while on vacation, said there may be only one way to keep work at bay while on vacation.

“If you really need and want to unwind and get away from it all, you pretty much have to turn that phone off,” he said.

LaDoucer shared information about a recent AAA study that shows that about 83 percent of North Dakotans intend a summer getaway this year and 70 percent plan a vacation of four days or more.

Diminishing returns

Such time off is valuable, according to Rachel Blumhardt, whose job involves helping employees deal with the issues that trouble them.

Blumhardt, an employee assistance counselor and clinical supervisor for the Village Business Institute at The Village Family Service Center in Fargo, said establishing healthy boundaries between work and home is difficult in the modern world, but also essential.

“What I see is, when people do take that time to have a healthy break, they tend to have a lot more energy, a lot more drive, better concentration, better focus,” Blumhardt said.

When people who take work-free breaks return to work, Blumhardt said they do a much better job than they would if they do things like work through their lunch breaks, take work home with them, or tackle job-related tasks while on vacation.

For the latter, “There tends to be a bit of emotional/mental burnout, and they’re more likely to get stuck and the quality of their work will not be what they like it to be,” Blumhardt said.

Pins and needles

Steve Spader and his wife, Jen DeMaio, operate Two Turtles Acupuncture Center in Fargo.

Over the long Fourth of July weekend, they took several extra days and made a trip to Kentucky, a journey Spader called relaxing, even though he took work with him.

“I brought a bunch with me and I did do a little bit, but I didn’t really do anything,” said Spader, whose job providing acupuncture sessions gives him a peek at the price some people pay for refusing, or being unable, to relax.

“If they’re open to that possibility, then it happens,” he said. “But sometimes they’re just not able to get past that, they won’t allow themselves to have that relaxation.”

That even holds true for some retired people who feel they must be working all the time, Spader said.

“I think it is a part of their identity, their life. So, it becomes tough,” he said.

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Forum News Service
The Forum Communications News Service is the premier news wire service covering the Upper Midwest, stretching from the oilfields of western North Dakota to the plains of South Dakota and to the shores of eastern Minnesota. For more information about the services we offer or to discuss content subscriptions, please contact us.
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