All Work and No Play

We Americans love to work, don’t we? wooden bridgeIt’s so deeply embedded in our psyche that we throw sideway glances toward our European counterparts when it comes to unions, government regulation and, naturally, vacations.

So much so that a recent survey by Harris Interactive and Teamviewer found that 61% of Americans plan to work during their 2013 vacation. 61%. This is up 10% from a year ago.

Not everyone surveyed in the poll said they wanted to work during vacation, just that they were going to do it. For a country that loves to talk about work-life balance, we do a bad job of living it.

I am certainly guilty of working on vacation. In fact, I think the last time I didn’t have some kind of tether back to the office during vacation was before 2000. And that was primarily driven by a work culture just starting its full-scale incorporation of portable technologies into its definition of work.

Part of this reality of the working vacation is due to the dissolution of the old school, invisible barrier between the professional and personal spheres. Part of it is due to the growth of knowledge-based work, which has no real “place” where it needs to be performed, as well as the people who do this work who are oftentimes highly educated and obsessively driven.  Sometimes it’s mandated by managers who use “access” crudely as a form of control. I’ve seen leaders who hold sacred the time that their people are out of the office, and only contact a vacationing employee if there is no other option.

But I believe another factor is the desire, or addictive need, to be indispensible.  “I must be on call,” some of us think. “Who else can do this except me? It’s my responsibility. It’s my obligation. It’s my job.”


Work and life, as we define it, are not two separate entities. Life is the whole and how we spend our time in professional, personal, family or community terms is what we do with it. The very notion of separating, and then managing, a preset ratio of work and life is inherently out of whack. The art of finding meaning from life, and the various activities we pursue within it, requires careful and purposeful balance.

Which gets us back to the vacation statistic. If you define vacation as an intentional break from your everyday life, then doing work during it is akin to bringing a pile of laundry to the beach. But if you define vacation as an opportunity to explore new locations, switch up your routine or quietly enjoy a slower pace, then doing a little work during it is not out of sync at all. You are extending your life into another venue. Bringing a bit of home with you is natural.

Neither approach is the “right” one. What is right is being clear about what you want your vacation to be, and then determining if your job or your company or your manager respects your definition. If it all aligns, great. If it doesn’t, then it can lead you to other important questions, like “Is this the place where I really want to be?” Because odds are if your employer doesn’t respect your definition of vacation, they probably don’t respect your definition of life either.

As for me, my summer vacation will be 99% play with an occasional glance at the old Inbox.




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  1. […] So to honor the concept of vacation, and practice what I have previously preached, I am bringing my dear readers back to a blog I published in August, 2013 entitled “All Work and No Play.”  […]

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