Digital Insights: “Presenteeism” From Afar: Is Your Vacation A Blackberry-Free Zone?

Aug. 3, 2010
Is your family vacation a blackberry-free zone?

Before our honeymoon, my husband and I instituted a “no BlackBerry” policy for our vacations going forward.

Did we both end up sneaking away several times to find cell reception amongst the palm trees, secretly turn on our PDAs and scan our work emails, praying nothing tragic happened in our absence? Yes. Did we then have to institute a “we leave the BlackBerries at home” vacation policy? Yes. Do we both still smuggle them into our suitcases anyways, just in case? Absolutely.

But where does this all end? With BlackBerrys, iPhones, Droids, and so on, is there ever really a vacation from work? Can we thank the digital revolution for wiping out the relaxation portion of our trips? Do you spend half your holiday wondering just how many emails you are going to have waiting in your inbox while gone or dreading all the work you’ll have to do when you’re back? Do you, too, wrestle with quirky international keyboards at the hotel business center and shoddy beachside cell reception just so you can attempt to relax knowing things are running smoothly without you?

A recent survey from the U.K.’s Institute of Leadership and Management revealed that nearly 40 percent of mid- to high-level U.K. employees and managers claim a vacation leaves them feeling “more anxious” than before they left the office.

Penny de Valk, the institute’s chief executive, explains: “This anxiety is almost certainly due to the high workloads we anticipate returning to, and the fear of what might be waiting for us when we get back. While technology means it is easier than ever to work remotely, it also makes it extremely hard to switch off.”

Of those polled who who work while on vacation, 80 percent frequently responded to e-mails, nearly 50 percent took phone calls and 10 percent even went to the office. Over two-thirds of those who own a smartphone said y they check it at least once a day.

Experts call this trend one aspect of “presenteeism” which they define as arriving early and staying late, as well as staying in touch while on holiday as a way of showing commitment to your employer in the hope that the axe will not fall on you.

Rather than spending time with their families, many managers, the report concluded, are frantically checking and returning emails and taking calls from the office while away. It may be safe to assume that the idea of presenteeism coupled with technological enablers may amount to a culture that finds it both necessary and acceptable to work on vacation. Will we have to start planning supplemental vacations to our vacations?

We took a trip to Miami Beach recently. While on an airboat ride in the alligator-infested Everglades, my husband’s BlackBerry buzzed, and flashed “Office Calling”. I watched him contemplate whether to answer, or feed the phone to the gators. There was a long pause. “Hello . . . ”

About the Author

Michele Vaccarello Wagner | Senior Digital Editor