by Kim S. Nash

Why CIOs and IT Need a Vacation

Jun 26, 20094 mins

When the economy finally recovers, workplace stress will only rise. CIOs should set a good example for their staff and rest up with a week off, now.

Stress necessitates rest, and yet a recessionary pressure-cooker of a workplace has some IT leaders scared to take their due vacation time.

According to Expedia’s 2009 vacation survey, about one-third of U.S. workers don’t use all of their vacation days. And an informal query of our own CIO Forum on Facebook reveals a certain bitterness about vacation plans (or lack thereof). “Vacation? Ha!” says Shawn Beighle, CIO of International Republican Institute, a nonprofit that helps to advance democracy worldwide. “My boss has been on me to take more time off, and though I know he’s sincere, there’s just too much to do,” Beighle says.

Others, though, have conceded that skipping vacation is counterproductive. Constant work inhibits calm, clear thinking and the generation of fresh ideas, says Jason Paulsen, a project manager at MAC Cosmetics. “Vacation gives you a chance to come back to tasks with a new perspective and more energy.”

Darrel Raynor, interim CIO and founder and managing director of turnaround consultancy Data Analysis & Results, plans to take his family twice this summer (four times a year) to their timeshare in Mexico. “Have to have that balance,” he says. Swine flu be damned.

To read more on this topic, see Five Tips for Getting the Vacation You Need and What It’s Like To….Take A Real Vacation.

Indeed, CIOs can and should set a healthy example by taking time off, says Diane Morello, a vice president and fellow at Gartner. Perhaps not a decadent three weeks in Bali, she says, but certainly a solid week at a time and weekends bracketed by extra vacation days is reasonable.

Doing so shows you’re a leader who values work-life balance and that you trust your group to work well even when you’re not there. “If you’ve spent the time in advance to lay out an effective organization, urgent issues can be handled by a path other than one through you,” she says.

Still, unease has set in as IT work—and layoffs—continue.

“With increased demands to do more with less and the fact that we are so short-staffed, I’m not in the position to take long vacations,” says Steve Tomasco, director of IT at Flagship Credit. “I constantly feel like I am running uphill and I don’t want to let anything get past me.”

Even extended weekends find Tomasco connected to the office via BlackBerry, he says. “Never really leaving the office has become the norm.”

Jay Hall, manager of information systems at the Missouri National Education Association, a public school advocacy group, typically takes just 12 of his 25 allotted days off. He sells back the rest but acknowledges “it takes a tremendous toll on my motivation at work.” When he does vacation, he’s exhausted, he says, adding that he once fell asleep while snorkeling in Jamaica.

The balance was similarly skewed at import-export firm GHY International until it actually forced its employees out the door. These days, GHY is considered among Canada’s best places to work, but in 2006 it was so bad that vice president of IT Nigel Fortlage took just 25 percent of his due time off and saw the rest of his group follow suit.

“IT was the worst for not taking holiday time,” he says. “And it took two years to get all holiday time caught up.” Despite smaller staffs and added pressure, the time to make a vacation push may be now. As busy as we are, the pace will quicken when the economy rebounds, notes Gartner’s Morello. CIOs should know that, she says, and keep their teams “refreshed” with regular time off.

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