Some years ago, I spent one week at a health spa located outside Chicago for vacation. I had a glorious time meeting people from other parts of the U.S. who were there to relax and jumpstart their health routines. There were no phones in the rooms, so most guests brought their cell phones, though the spa advised us to keep them shut off as much as possible during our stay.
Among the guests was a heavyset, stressed out attorney in his 50s, who was there with his wife under doctor’s orders to reduce the stress in his life. Every morning at breakfast, he’d be at the table talking on his phone with someone from his office. It always seemed that he was constantly on the phone, or his phone would ring during meal times. As that attorney raced out of the dining hall one day to deal with yet another business crisis at the office, another guest, a manager of a retail store, shook his head in disbelief. “I can’t believe he doesn’t have someone who can take care of things while he’s away. I’ve got a manager at my store that I trained to take care of things so I don’t have to worry about anything,” he said.
With the long holiday weekend ahead, many workers are taking extended vacations. But how many of them will still check business emails and phone messages when they’re supposed to be enjoying a massage or swimming in the pool? How can any of us truly enjoy our vacation if we’re still conducting business via our smartphone?
Granted, some businesses need to be open for the holidays, and certain professionals, such as medical staff and news reporters, must work part of the time or need access to their smartphones in case of an emergency. But for most people who are enjoying some time off, limiting their use of mobile technology for work is a necessary part of the vacation experience.
According to research from Pew Research Center, 64 percent of American adults owned a smartphone as of October 2014, and I’m sure that percentage has increased since then. Of American smartphone owners, 7 percent are “smartphone dependent,” meaning their mobile device is their only connection to the Internet because they don’t have broadband at home. In addition, 90 percent of adults own a cell phone, 32 percent own an e-reader and 42 percent use a tablet computer. With so many electronic gadgets available, it’s getting harder and harder to detach from work, even while sitting on a beach in the Caribbean.
The U.S. is not alone. Other countries are beginning to realize how overworked their employees are and are relaxing demands on their time. A few weeks ago, for example, thanks to legislation passed by the French government, French workers are no longer required to check into the office or check business emails on the weekend. Their workers, they say, need to take a mental break from work to be more effective.
If you are about to embark on vacation this summer, here are several strategies to help you truly “get away” from the office so you can enjoy the beach, golf, picnics and other fun activities.
1. Set time limits for checking emails and phone messages. Give yourself 30 minutes in the morning, and maybe, MAYBE, 30 minutes at dinner time if necessary. Only respond if there’s an emergency. The less time you spend responding to business emails and calls, the more time you have to relax.
2. Send reminders to co-workers and business associates that you are about to go on vacation. Explain that you will have limited accessibility to email and cell phone, so it will be difficult to reach you except in case of an emergency. Outline what you mean by emergency too, because, as we all know, one person’s idea of a minor issue is a crisis to someone else.
3. Ask yourself, how important is this issue? Does it have to be resolved now, or can it wait until you get back to the office? See if you can barter for more time.
4. If possible, train someone in the office to deal with problems in your absence. If there is no one you can trust to handle business in your absence, you might need to shut down for a few days with a sign on the door and a message on your voicemail indicating you are on vacation.
5. If you really want to get away from it all, go somewhere with spotty Internet service. You won’t be able to check emails, phone messages or update social media profiles, but no one will be pestering you from the office either.
The last thing anyone wants to do on vacation is to think about work. Depending on your job, sometimes it can’t be helped. But by implementing a few personal strategies, you can relax and enjoy your vacation the way you are meant to.