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What vacation? Expect to work while you're away

Esther Shein | July 11, 2014
In these lean times, backups aren't what they used to be; it's inevitable that IT staffers will be called to help, especially when an important issue is brewing.

While on vacation in Ocean City, Md. a few years back with his wife and kids, Michael Adler got a panic-stricken call from the office. At the time he was working at Symantec, which was in the throes of an acquisition, and an intellectual property problem had arisen. As vice president of engineering and enterprise mobility, Adler had to take what he calls "a vacation from my vacation" for an entire day. Armed with his cell phone and a computer at a local library, he ended up working remotely for seven hours. (He is now vice president of engineering at digital marketing company Constant Contact.)

"It was pretty intense. It became just a regular workday -- I just wasn't in the office," recalls Adler. "The availability of technology allowed me to do it, but it's not healthy. I literally lost a Friday of my vacation week and I was supposed to be on the beach."

Adler's story is far from unusual. With companies operating 24x7 and employees increasingly working from mobile devices, the pressure on IT staff to stay in touch even when they are on vacation is becoming almost an unspoken requirement.

"I literally lost a Friday of my vacation week and I was supposed to be on the beach," says Michael Adler, now vice president of engineering at Constant Contact, about a situation that occurred while in a previous job.

On the whole, IT workers take less vacation than other types of professional workers, says Jack Cullen, president of Modis, a global provider of IT staffing services. "I wouldnt say they 'lose' vacation time," as they often can cash in any unused time off for wages at year end, but recently IT staffers "have taken less time off than in the past" due to more IT projects going on these days, as well as an undersupply of some IT titles.

Even while on vacation, "folks in IT feel [they] need to be checking in . . . there's a lot going on during the day, and some of them have come back and said 'I don't even think it was worthwhile taking a vacation, given that I was connected pretty much all the way through,'" Cullen explains, of what he has heard from IT workers.

"Generally speaking, most managers want to make sure their employees are taking time away from the office and recharging their batteries and getting quality time to themselves or with families," says John Reed, senior executive director at staffing firm Robert Half Technology. However, if an IT person is involved in a time-sensitive project that is critical to the company, "there is an implied expectation you would be periodically checking email for updates in case there is something really critical that required a response or opinion on something."


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