by Mindy Blodgett

Ideas 2003: Leisure: Relax: Don’t Do IT.

Jan 01, 20033 mins

Fact: Americans work too much. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that almost 26 million Americans spend 49 or more hours a week on the job. Of those workaholics, nearly 11 million work 60 or more hours weekly. And while the Japanese have cut 191 work hours from their average annual total in the past decade, Americans have added 58 according to an Aug. 26, 2002, article in BusinessWeek.

U.S. employers are also famous for taking meager vacations, compared with the rest of the developed world. And according to a survey by online travel agent, U.S. workers don’t even take the time they’ve got, leaving an average of 1.8 vacation days a year unused.

In IT, the work-life balance may be even more lopsided. There is a widespread expectation that IT workers should be available 24/7, according to John Hummel, CIO of Sutter Health, a Sacramento, Calif.-based health delivery organization. The recession has only made things worse. “We’re seeing burnout with all the cost pressures and a need to get greater productivity out of fewer people,” Hummel says.

But there are signs that American workers are getting tired of all work and no play, and in 2003 IT leaders may come around as well. In a recent survey by Yankelovich Partners, a research company based in Chapel Hill, N.C., workers who were offered either two weeks extra pay or two weeks extra vacation preferred the extra vacation. Beverly Lieberman, president of executive recruitment company Halbrecht Lieberman Associates in Stamford, Conn., says she has noticed two-week vacations becoming a trend among CIOs?something she calls “a real breakthrough.”

But she quickly adds that these vacationing executives rarely untether. “It’s just not possible for most CIOs to completely disconnect,” Lieberman says. “They take along their BlackBerrys or laptops and at least periodically check their e-mail.”

The key to letting go is delegation, says Philip Schneidermeyer, managing director of the IT executive recruiting company Talent Intelligence Agency in Darien, Conn. “A successful CIO is delegating, especially the tactical, day-to-day operational details, and should therefore be able to schedule regular time off.”

Joe Gagliardi, CIO of Miami-based shoemaker Unisa, is one IT leader who long ago decided that if he didn’t completely disconnect on vacation, he wouldn’t get the mental distance he needed to recharge. Six years ago, he started an annual tradition of taking a 10-day vacation with his wife at a remote Jamaican beach resort with no phone and only one satellite TV. His cell phone doesn’t even work there.

“It usually takes three days before the steam stops coming out of my ears,” he says. “By the fourth day, I’m drinking a Mai Tai or something at breakfast and not wearing a wristwatch. I’ve learned that you can push yourself to the point of sickness and that you need to find a way to unwind to get the poisons out. This is my way.”

Think about it.