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When You Work on Vacation, You’re Not on Vacation

Topics: Work Culture

Mobile technology has enabled us to work more flexibly than we did, say, 25 years ago, but at a price: while demanding bosses of yesteryear were stuck with the occasional phone call, today’s anxious managers can require us to check in almost constantly, emailing and messaging and working on projects remotely – almost to the point where we’re not on vacation at all.


(Photo Credit: Zach Minor/Unsplash)

In fact, working on vacation can negate some of the beneficial effects of taking time off.

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“There is a lot of research that says we have a limited pool of cognitive resources,” says Allison Gabriel, an assistant professor of management at Virginia Commonwealth, in an interview with Entrepreneur. “When you are constantly draining your resources, you are not being as productive as you can be. If you get depleted, we see performance decline. You’re able to persist less and have trouble solving tasks.”

Spend your vacation constantly checking in with the office, and you’re not really taking a holiday – you’re just working from another location.

Other reasons to take a real break, i.e. one that doesn’t involve working from your beach chair.

1. You deserve it.

Americans work more than anyone else, and take less vacation. If anyone needs a day off, it’s us. Better yet, make it a week or two.

2. You’ll have better ideas.

“Sometimes, solutions to stubborn dilemmas come when we least expect them,” writes Megan Elliott at CheatSheet. “If you’ve hit a roadblock on a project at work or can’t solve a nagging problem, taking some time off could make it easier to find the solution. Research has shown that an ‘aha’ moment produces about 60% of solutions to complex problems, and that these moments are more likely to occur when your brain is well-rested.”

3. Your co-workers will thank you.

Not only will you be a more productive, more pleasant colleague if you’re well-rested from a real vacation, but you’ll also help set a precedent that could make it easier for your co-workers to take their well-deserved time off.

Of course, whether or not you work on vacation isn’t necessarily entirely under your control. Your boss and your corporate culture in general also contribute to whether you feel that you can truly unplug while you’re away.

If you absolutely have to work on vacation, there are ways to do it without losing your mind; in this classic Lifehacker post, Whitson Gordon advises those who must work on vacation to set aside time exclusively for work, keeping the rest for play, and to make sure that you’ll have the technology you’ll need to get stuff done, among other tips.

Ideally, though, you shouldn’t make working vacations a habit. If your job really requires you to work through every holiday, maybe you don’t need a plan for doing so more efficiently – maybe you need a new job.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you really take time off, or are you expected to check in with the office? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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