Working vacations are an IT mainstay

IT executives explain why they keep tabs on work email and phone messages when they're supposed to be relaxing. By Patrick Thibodeau

That IT professionals work on vacation is as obvious as sand on the beach. For many, it's accepted as part of the job -- and they just might relish the idea that they're indispensable.

In a recent survey of 200 IT pros by TEKsystems, 67% of the senior IT workers polled said that they are expected to be available while they're on vacation.

The IT staffing firm's finding might sound low to some people; many tech career experts say it's likely that as many as 95% of senior IT professionals would have to be on call when they're on holiday.

For IT leaders like Osvaldo de Lima, CIO of ECOM Group, a multinational agriculture commodities trading and processing company, there's no escape from work, just accommodation.

De Lima said he keeps up with email and takes some phone calls during vacations to avoid facing a glut of messages when he returns to the office. "[It's] to my own benefit," he said.

However, he does delegate key tasks to staffers as much as possible. "Trust the team," de Lima said.

A vacation still means spending time with family and not commuting to the office, but de Lima never fully puts work aside. "That's the nature of our job; that's the profession that we chose," he said.

"Work will always impede upon my vacations to some degree," said Brian Kelley, CIO of Portage County IT Services, in Ohio. Like de Lima, he said checking in makes the return easier.

If he handles some work while on vacation, Kelley said, "catching up will not be a major headache."

A Harris Interactive survey of nearly 2,100 adults last month found that about 54% of managers expect that employees will do some work during a vacation. The survey was commissioned by Ricoh Americas.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin, CEO and executive director at Tribe, an internal communications agency, said that many employees will stay connected to work when they're away from the office, but she said they should be encouraged to do otherwise.

"When employees stay vigilantly aware, especially in the age of constant digital connection, it keeps them in a state of high alert," Baskin said. "That keeps them from getting the necessary time to relax and recharge."

Kyri Sarantakos, vice president of engineering at TheLadders, an online job-matching service, said his company makes sure that the tasks of vacationing workers are covered.

"We like to avoid a single point of failure," he said. As for his own vacations, Sarantakos said he tries to minimize the disruptions. For example, he won't dial into conference calls unless they're addressing critical issues, like key hiring decisions.

TheLadders has a flexible and unlimited vacation policy and encourages people to take time "to recharge and find renewed energy and enthusiasm for the work ahead," Sarantakos said.

Pierluigi Stella, CTO at Network Box USA, a managed security services firm, has one policy for himself and another for the people he manages. "I cannot spend a whole day detached from the office," he said. "My vacations, few and far between, are always in places where cellular phones work."

But regarding his staff, he said, "If they are in vacation, they are in vacation. I expect them to be detached and unavailable as much as possible."

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an article that appeared earlier on

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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