By Dolores Kong
The Boston Globe

When Barry Lawrence heads to the beaches of Cape
Hatteras for a weeklong vacation each summer, his wife
usually jokingly says, "It's either me and the family
or the laptop, not both."

But as a spokesman for CareerBuilder, a Virginia
online network,"It's hard for me to disconnect
entirely from the world. I just can't do it," Lawrence
said. "I'm pretty much plugged in with voice mail,
cellphone, laptop - and PDA [personal digital
assistant], come to think about it."

When high-tech communications consultant Wendy Wolfson
goes to Nova Scotia for a quick getaway later this
month, she'll be sipping mango margaritas with a

But she'll also have her notes and maybe her laptop
for the humor essays she writes in what she calls her
"secret life."
"I'm really bad at taking vacations," said Wolfson,
whose Wolfson Communications is in Somerville. "You
should totally get away, but I'm always trying to do
something constructive."

It's summertime, and the living is supposed to be
easy. But with Americans working longer hours, the
latest technology allowing work to be brought
virtually anywhere, and with the current corporate
downsizings, it's not so easy anymore for workers to
leave the office and just relax on the links or the

Several new surveys highlight the growing impingement
of work on vacation, and the continuing disparity in
paid time off for US workers and their counterparts in
other parts of the industrialized world. Such vacation
deprivation can even take a psychological toll,
suggest some of the surveys.

In a new CareerBuilder poll of more than 3,000 people
who get the company's e-mail newsletter, for instance,
40 percent of workers say they stay in touch with the
office when on vacation, and more than half of those
employees say their bosses expect them to do so.

"I find that pretty high," said Lawrence of
CareerBuilder. While he admits he's among the guilty,
he's worked out a system of checking in only at a
specific time, and never when he's on the beach. "If
it's hanging over your head the whole time, it's
really not a vacation. That's not a good thing," he

The poll, released two weeks ago, also found that of
those who do keep in touch while on vacation, 66
percent check voice mail, 54 percent check e-mail, and
47 percent carry a cellphone, pager, or other mobile
device for work purposes.

But this technological tether to work can come at a
psychological cost, affecting both work and family
life, suggests another new survey, entitled "Feeling
Overworked: When Work Becomes Too Much."

While 38 percent of employees who "often" or "very
often" use cellphones, beepers, laptops, and other
technology to work during off hours said they
experience high levels of feeling overworked, only 29
percent of employees who "rarely" or "never" use
technology during nonwork time said they felt that
way, according to the survey of 1,000 people by the
Families and Work Institute in New York.

The report, released in May, also found that 25
percent of employees said they do not take all of the
vacation they are entitled to because work is too
demanding. And like a vicious cycle, those who do not
take all their vacation time are more likely to feel
overworked (55 percent) than those who do take all
their time off (27 percent), according to the survey.

"Our findings strongly suggest that every employee
reaches a point when increasing work demands simply
become too much - a point at which personal and family
relations, personal health, and the quality of work
itself are seriously threatened," concludes the study.
"Today's 24/7 economy appears to be pushing many
employees to and beyond that point."

As if these findings are not bad enough, some
employers are now moving away from providing paid
vacation. The percentage of employers offering paid
vacation has dropped from 94 percent in 1997 to 84
percent in 2001, according to the latest benefits
survey by the Society for Human Resource Management.

Instead, some companies are offering what is being
called "paid time off" plans, with sick days, vacation
days and personal days lumped into one, according to
Cathy Saka, work-life consultant for Hewitt
Associates, a management consulting and outsourcing
firm based in Illinois.

These sorts of plans provide employees with greater
flexibility and seem to help employers cut down on
unscheduled absences, according to Saka. The total
paid-time-off days in such plans can range from about
20 to about 30, she said.

No matter what it's called, paid vacation or paid time
off, "it's very important for people to get away and
recharge, so they can be as productive as they were
before," Saka said.

It's hard to get away when everyone is pressed for
time, companies are downsizing, and employers are
cutting back on all sorts of costs, Saka acknowledged.

"When employers are dealing with an economic downturn,
the first thing to go is work-life programs because
they say `That's fluff,' " she said. But in reality,
now may be more critical than ever to provide such
programs and acknowledge the importance of quality
vacation time, for the sake of both employees and
employers, she said.

Perhaps the United States can learn a thing or two
about vacation from some European nations.

While most US employers give only 10 vacation days
after one year of service, some European countries
mandate that workers get as many as 30 days off after
one year of service, according to a Hewitt Associates
survey released last month.

This vacation disparity among nations has even
prompted a California travel magazine, appropriately
entitled Escape, to launch a campaign to change the US
approach. The campaign has been written up in such
magazines as The Utne Reader, and features an online
petition to Congress at

The title of the campaign? "Work to Live,"
appropriately enough.