Survey: More Workers Check In Even on Vacation

By Kathy Gurchiek Jul 20, 2012
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An increasing number of U.S. workers who take vacation are performing work-related tasks on their so-called off time, according to a Harris Interactive survey of 2,212 U.S. adults.

More than half of employed Americans will perform some type of job-related task while vacationing—reading work-related e-mails and taking phone calls—according to findings released July 16, 2012. That’s an increase of 6 percentage points from a similar survey in 2011.

Men were more likely than women to perform job duties while on vacation (56 percent vs. 47 percent, respectively), and single workers are more likely than married workers to have a boss, client or colleague ask them to perform a task while on vacation.

The online survey was conducted within the U.S. in May 2012 for TeamViewer, a provider of remote control and online meetings software. Among respondents, 1,309 were employed full or part-time or were self-employed.

Its findings:

  • 30 percent expect to read work-related e-mails on summer vacation.
  • 23 percent expect to receive work-related phone calls.
  • 19 percent will want access to a document on their home computer; 13 percent will want access to a document on their work computer.
  • 18 percent expect to receive work-related text messages.
  • 13 percent expect a boss, client or colleague to ask them to work while on vacation.
  • 15 percent of single Americans vs. 6 percent of married Americans expect a boss, client or colleague to ask them to work while on vacation.
  • 39 percent of employed Americans living in the West vs. 25 percent of those living in the South say they plan to read work-related e-mails during summer vacation.

Additionally, CareerBuilder found in its Summer Vacation Outlook 2012 survey that three in 10 workers contact work during their vacation and 23 percent once had to work while the family went on vacation without them, similar to its 2011 findings.

Thirty-seven percent of managers expect employees to check in with the workplace while on vacation, although most say only if involved in a big project or major issue, CareerBuilder found.

The findings are based on 5,772 full-time U.S. workers age 18 and older and 2,303 hiring managers and HR professionals. Harris Interactive conducted the online survey in February and March 2012.

Drawing a Line in the (Beach) Sand

It looks like regulating use of wireless devices during nonwork hours rests on the shoulders of employees rather than employers, according to a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) report, Technology and Its Impact on Employees During Nonworking Hours.

SHRM randomly surveyed 332 HR professionals among its members in June 2011 and found only about a fifth had a formal policy in place that regulates the use of work-related wireless communication during nonwork hours; about a fourth had an informal policy.

The majority of organizations without a formal or informal policy allow employees to set their own limits on wireless use for work purposes during nonwork hours. Sixty-two percent without a formal or informal policy indicated they were not likely to adopt one in the next one to three years.

In a separate SHRM survey report, Work/Life Balance Policies, only about a fourth of 332 respondents said their organizations have a formal work/life balance policy. The survey was conducted June 2011. Among the slightly more than half with an informal work/life policy, 62 percent said it addresses working during vacation.

‘Paid, Paid’ Vacations

Some employees check in because they don’t want to be overwhelmed with an overflowing inbox of work when they return, fear being out of the loop while on vacation, or from a “misguided hero syndrome.”

CareerBuilder suggested managers can help employees maximize their time off by helping them prioritize tasks that need to be done before and after they’re on vacation, consult with them on what work is most important, and what can be eliminated or postponed until their return.

Rosemary Haefner, vice president of HR at CareerBuilder, noted that not only is it a manager’s responsibility to help employees with work/life balance when it comes to vacations—even if finances keep employees close to home—it’s advantageous for a productive work environment.

“Workers who maximize vacation time are less likely to burn out and more likely to maintain productivity levels,” she said in a news release.

“Heavy workloads and financial constraints can make it difficult to get away from work, but even if you’re not traveling far from home, a few days away can have a very positive impact on your health and happiness.”

Bart Lorang, CEO of technology start-up FullContact, is taking a radical company approach to vacations with a giant experiment he calls “Paid, Paid Vacation.” The company gives each employee $7,500 for one 15-day annual vacation. To receive the money, though, the employee must actually go on vacation, unplug from technology, and not work.

“In today’s world of e-mail, iPhones, Androids, Twitter, Facebook and devices on our person 24/7, we’re always connected. It’s not healthy,” Lorang wrote in his blog. He should know; his blog includes a photo of himself and his fiancée riding camels, the pyramids of Egypt before them, while his eyes are glued to his electronic device.

“Perhaps it is a sense of ownership or desire to feel needed, but in many company cultures (especially startups), there is often a misguided hero syndrome that encourages an ‘I’m the only one who can do this’ mentality,” he wrote.

“That’s not heroic. That’s a single point of failure,” he observed. “If people know they will be disconnecting and going off the grid for an extended period of time … at the end of the day, the company will improve. As an added bonus, everyone will be happier and more relaxed knowing that they aren’t the last line of defense.”

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editorfor HR News.

Related Articles:

24-Hour Shift: Mobile Employees Work Around the Clock, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, August 2011

One in Four Feel Unable to Take Vacation, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, June 2011

Related Resource:

Workplace Flexibility Resource Page
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