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Balancing act: Survey confirms vacation is good time to disconnect

Published: Monday, July 2 2012 1:00 p.m. MDT

According to the Robert Half Management Resources survey, 51 percent of chief financial officers interviewed said they did not check in with the office at all while on vacation. That's nearly double the 26 percent who said they didn't check in during a similar poll in 2010.

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When I was a child, my family took a major vacation every other summer. These trips were epic journeys for me, and I looked forward to them with great anticipation.

From our home in small-town South Dakota, we went everywhere: Chicago; New York City; Washington, D.C.; Disney World in Florida; New Orleans; Seattle; Glacier National Park; Yellowstone. It seemed that we could go anywhere, as long as we were willing to deal with a long car trip to get there. And in the end, seeing the country from the back seat of a car ended up being part of the fun — at least during those times when I wasn't fighting with my sister.

One of the reasons I loved these trips was that it was just our little family of four, venturing out into the world. This was before mobile phones and laptops, so we were relatively cut off from life in South Dakota. I don't remember my mom or dad ever checking in with work or with people back home. It was pure family time.

In today's often over-connected world, it's harder for many of us to truly "get away" when we go on a family trip. We're so used to checking email on our smartphones that we keep doing it from the beach or the amusement park. And when we see an email about trouble back at the office, we find it hard to resist making a call to help.

(I say "we" because I hope I'm not alone in this!)

I've been trying to do a better job of leaving work behind when I'm away from the office, though it has been challenging at times. And, according to a new survey, I'm not the only one who sees value in disconnecting during vacation time.

According to the Robert Half Management Resources survey, 51 percent of chief financial officers interviewed said they did not check in with the office at all while on vacation. That's nearly double the 26 percent who said they didn't check in during a similar poll in 2010.

The survey for Robert Half, a provider of finance, accounting and business systems professionals on a project and interim basis, was conducted by an independent research firm. It includes responses from 1,400 CFOs from a random sample of U.S. companies with 20 or more employees.

The survey asked, "During your summer vacation, how often do you typically check in with the office?" In response, 8 percent of CFOs said "several times daily" in this year's survey, compared to 18 percent in 2010. Another 11 percent said "once or twice daily" this year, down from 15 percent in 2010.

However, 27 percent said they check in "several times a week," up from 12 percent two years ago.

Paul McDonald, a Robert Half senior executive director, said in a press release that the trend of unplugging while on vacation is a good one.

"It may indicate that executives have a stronger level of confidence in their teams and processes, and as a result feel more comfortable skipping regular check-ins," he said in the release. "With the prevalence of wireless networks and mobile devices, they know they can be reached easily if needed ....

"Placing trust in a solid team to carry on without your guidance can help you identify potential candidates for succession planning and promotion."

Even though the survey shows that many CFOs are not comfortable with a complete disconnection, McDonald said those who can unplug should do so.

"By stepping away completely, people are more likely to gain the restorative benefits of vacation and return to the office recharged and more productive," McDonald said in the release. "Managers also set a positive example when they disconnect, since employees may be inclined to follow suit."

I believe that's true. My manager recently returned from a two-week vacation during which he was completely unavailable for a large chunk of the time. I know he must have had hundreds — maybe thousands — of emails to plow through upon his return, but he seemed to hit the ground running without much difficulty.

His example has inspired me. I've got a family vacation coming up soon, and I'm going to make a real effort to disconnect. I've got a great team at the office, and I know they can handle anything that may arise while I'm gone. And, as McDonald said, they know they can reach me if something truly urgent develops.

My hope is that, if I'm able to improve my disconnection from work while on vacation, I'll improve my connection to my family. I'd love to hear my own children talk someday about the great trips we took when they were children and how for them, as with me, those times were pure family time.

How about you? Have you cut back on how often you check in with the office while on vacation? If so, what spurred you to make the change? What tips would you offer to others who are trying to do the same?

Please send me your ideas, and I'll share them in a future column. Here's hoping we can help each other make a summer of awesome memories.

Email your comments to kratzbalancingact@gmail.com or post them online at deseretnews.com. Follow me on Twitter at gkratzbalancing or on Facebook on my journalist page.

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