Survey: Most people work while on vacation

Businessman with smartphone

(MoneyWatch) Should you work on vacation?

According to a survey by software maker Pertino, 59 percent of Americans work while on vacation. They're checking emails or perhaps doing the occasional conference calls, often using unsecure and unsanctioned access to documents. Is this good for anyone?

Those in favor of staying plugged in argue that they relax better knowing that everything is OK on the work front. An hour of email a day buys them 23 hours of calm, they say. I understand this approach. My attitude to email is often a negative one -- I just want to know there's nothing I have to deal with. But I also think that imaginatively, creatively and socially, it's better to switch off completely.

By this, I don't mean adopting the fashionable "off the grid" vacation. It strikes me as pretty pathetic that you have to buy your way into some exclusive non-connected place just to be a human being. But we ought to be organized and disciplined enough to be able to walk away, at least for a week, knowing we have colleagues who can cover for us. If we can't do this, what does it say about our own discipline, or about our colleagues?

I recognize that the current economic climate doesn't make anyone feel very secure. But I also know from personal experience that it's when you get away, mentally as well as physically, that you have insight and ideas. I also know that it is only when you put the phone or the Blackberry or the iPad or the laptop away that your kids even begin to believe you when you say that they're the most important thing in your life.

I see two polar opposites. You can stay connected, in which case your kids will stay connected too. They'll Facebook their friends, play on your iPad watch television and ignore you because, really, you're not there. It'll be like work, just not at work. The big difference? None.

Or you can disconnect and pay attention to the people and the life around you. This will give you ideas. Your emotional intelligence might regain the levels you once enjoyed. Your communication skills, empathy and level of understanding will improve. You might even have ideas of your own. Is that what makes it so scary?

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    Margaret Heffernan has been CEO of five businesses in the United States and United Kingdom. A speaker and writer, her most recent book Willful Blindness was shortlisted for the Financial Times Best Business Book 2011. Visit her on