Dear Matt: I feel guilty about taking time off of work. Even when I'm on vacation I'm thinking about my job and even checking my e-mails and voicemails. How can I really get away from work while on vacation?
Matt says: Today's technology means it's all too easy to check in to see what's going on at work. Next thing you know, you're responding to e-mails, returning a "quick" phone call and not getting the time away you need.
It's good to be connected, but most employers will tell you that they want you to use your vacation days and get away from all aspects of work.
It would be illegal for an employer to fire you or discriminate against you for taking a vacation, but our own natural anxiety often forces us to stay connected to work, "so the main thing that's holding you back is an under-developed ability to switch off, sit back, decompress and look after yourself," said Rachel Hastings, vice president of WFC Resources (www.WFCResources.com), a Twin Cities-based company that helps organizations and individuals achieve their work/life goals.
An Expedia.com survey revealed that an estimated 51 million Americans -- more than one-third of the workforce -- will not use all their vacation days. The Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. found that almost 1 in 4 Americans have no paid vacation and no paid holidays, and that the U.S. remains the only advanced country that does not guarantee workers a paid vacation. So if you have vacation, use it and don't feel guilty about it -- you've earned it.
"Look at it this way: If you didn't go home and sleep every night, you wouldn't be much use to the organization," said Hastings. "Same with vacations. You need to recharge, or the cost to yourself, to your family and to the organization of your potential [for] burn-out [and] stress-related illness will be greater."
Research shows that women who vacation less than once every two years are more likely to suffer from depression and stress than women who took vacations at least twice a year. So let your co-workers, business partners and other contacts know in advance that you will be on vacation, and put a plan or person in place to handle some of your responsibilities while you're away. Your colleagues will understand -- and will be happy for you.
"Set some strict boundaries about checking in with work," said Hastings. "Make some promises to your loved ones -- and stick to them."
Matt Krumrie is a Twin Cities freelance writer specializing in career advice.