Why more workers are copying Trump's "working vacation"

Americans are hitting the beach, seeing the sights and otherwise heading out on their summer vacations. But that doesn't necessarily mean they're taking a break from work. 

President Trump, for one, is on a 17-day working vacation at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, where he mixed golf with threatening North Korea with "fire and fury" for its continued provocations. To be sure, the president holds one of the few jobs where it's impossible to actually take a break from work. Yet many Americans with less critical professions seem to believe no one else can do their job.

A working vacation might seem like an oxymoron, but more Americans are trying to make the two activities fit together. About three in 10 workers stay connected to work during their vacations, CareerBuilder found in a survey conducted earlier this year by Harris Poll. 

The downside: Americans aren't fully recharging on their vacations, which raises the risk of burnout and lower productivity when they return to their desks, experts say. 

"You run the risk of not being able to approach your job with fresh ideas and high energy," said Marika Lindholm, a sociologist and founder of ESME, a website for single mothers, by email. "There's tons of evidence that proves that, when people continue to work day in and day out without a full break/vacation every once in a while, they will feel more stresses, experience brain fog, irritability/depression, and don't get to experience other areas of their life that you need to in order to feel like a happy and fulfilled person."

Many Americans are loath to take vacation at all. More than half of workers who earn paid vacation don't use all their time off, according to Bankrate.com.

It might sound like a plea from the U.S. Travel Association to take more vacations (and to be sure, the trade group actually has a campaign urging Americans to do just that), but there's research to back this up. 

One consulting firm decided to test the assertion of a Dutch company that their workers -- who enjoy bountiful time off during the summer -- were more productive than U.S. workers, who suffer from stingier vacation policies. After examining data from more than 3,400 respondents in Australia, Europe and the U.S., they found workers with more paid vacation work faster and have better focus.

Of course, workers in Europe generally not only have more job protections than people in the U.S., but the workplace culture tends to value a work-life balance.

"The most progressive companies realize the importance of employee wellness and encourage their employees to take vacations," said Jean Kristensen, CEO of Jean Kristensen Associates, a consulting firm for minority and women-owned firms. "I think the idea that taking time off could result in 'losing face' with their bosses is more of an issue of company culture."

Productivity isn't about keeping your nose to the grindstone, either. A survey of workers in developed countries from 1990 to 2012 found that productivity is highest when people work fewer hours

Before the advent of smartphones, wifi and high-speed Internet connections, taking work while on vacation was difficult, but not impossible. With the devices that Americans are now tethered to, it's almost impossible to avoid the temptation of checking in while on vacation. 

A few demographic groups are more likely to have a tougher time checking out than others: Men are more likely to stay connected to work while on vacation, as well as younger workers, CareerBuilder said. Employees in technology, financial services and sales are also more likely to work while vacationing.

"Fear is definitely a top reason people are not taking vacation time or checking email while on vacation -- fear of getting behind or that no one else at their company can do the work, or they feel they can never be disconnected," said Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder. "You have this kind of fear of not wanting to be seen as a slacker, but it's important to remember that you're entitled to this time off. You need to take the time to truly unwind."

To be sure, there is an argument for staying connected to the office while on vacation -- for some workers, it can actually lower stress. Just the thought of returning to a cluttered email inbox and scores of voicemails can raise blood pressure and lower productivity. 

"Sometimes disconnecting completely from work while on vacation can cause stress," Haefner added. "Try scheduling a check-in time where you read and answer urgent emails without feeling guilty. Then you won't feel anxious about what you're missing later on and can fully relax."