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Can't disconnect on vacation? These IT pros offer their hard-earned tips

Kacy Zurkus | June 29, 2015
We've all done it. Sworn to stay completely uncoupled from the office during a vacation, only to check email and get drawn into a work issue -- going from relaxed to tensed up in minutes.

man covered in post-it notes

We've all done it. Sworn to stay completely uncoupled from the office during a vacation, only to check email and get drawn into a work issue -- going from relaxed to tensed up in minutes.

While most IT professionals appreciate the need for a healthier work/life balance, many still struggle to disconnect while on vacation. But new research shows that the tide is turning -- techies at all levels are feeling less pressure to be connected to work during their downtime.

A recent TEKsystems survey of more than 1,000 IT professionals indicates that organizations are making adjustments to ensure that employees can achieve a more satisfactory work/life balance. And the numbers bear this out: Among the entry- and midlevel workers polled by the IT staffing firm, 85 percent reported that they aren't expected to be available at any time during their vacations, up from 74 percent in 2014. The change was even more significant for senior personnel: 83 percent of those respondents said they aren't expected to make themselves available while they're on vacation, up from a mere 30 percent last year.

While those statistics are encouraging, many people still struggle to find that balance. Here are a few tips from IT professionals who have learned how to make vacation time really work.

1. Get away when business is slow

"It's a challenge for anyone in IT to get away for a number of reasons," says Chris J. Meyers, IT manager at accounting and tax services firm James Moore & Co., which has three offices in Florida. "Everything is a fire when your firm is running at a billable rate."

"I've handled a help call in my kayak in the middle of a lake," he says. "The last time was around Christmas -- a WAN went down."

Meyers says he checks in via email often, and has his team contact him by text in case of emergencies while he's away. But even with those communications channels, taking time off is still difficult. "I can't remember the last time I took a two-week vacation. It had to have been 10 years ago," he says.

Instead, Meyers tries to coordinate his time off with business cycles, opting for one-week breaks or days off that wrap around long weekends or other holidays. Sometimes, he says, "escaping to the Everglades in the middle of the summer where there is no service is the only way to completely relax."

2. Develop a contact protocol

For Joe Piazza, enterprise platform architect for the Andover, Mass., town government and the Andover public school system, the summer months -- ironically -- are the busiest, and essentially off-limits for vacations.

 

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