Here's Why Working on Vacation Isn't Just a Bummer -- It's Bad for You

Most of us can't unplug during time off, a new survey shows, and experts say that's a threat to our families -- and our work

Woo hoo! It's summer and that means a chance to finally unplug and go on vacation as a reward for slogging through months of unbroken work during the less festive seasons of the year. Right? Wrong.

A new study reveals that 61 percent of Americans plan to work on their vacation this year. That figure is significantly higher than just over half of Americans polled last year, according to the survey by Harris Interactive cited by Today.com.

The fact that most of us can't seem to disconnect is not only a vacation buzz kill, but it's also a threat to our productivity at work -- yes, you read that right -- as well as to the success of our family unit, experts say.

"After you do the same thing every day at work, life gets boring and you become less attentive to details because you start zoning out," says Laurie Puhn, author, couples mediator and creator of the nationwide course Fight Less, Love More. That lack of inspiration and perspective can make your work really suffer.

"But if you separate yourself from [work]," Puhn says, "you may get new ideas, new energy. You might even discover that there are certain elements of being in constant communication that are useless, if not harmful." She emphasizes that stepping away from the constant distractions of our day-to-day work lives can give a renewed inspiration when we get back.

And it's not just our work that suffers if we don’t truly step away from it for a vacation; it's our families, too. "Certainly the children are suffering, because they want time with mommy or daddy. And the spouse feels unimportant and annoyed," says Sherry Amatenstein, L.C.S.W. She warns that if one or both partners think it's normal to work through their time together, it can have a negative effect in the both the short and long term. "You aren't even really with each other, and you're really losing touch with each other."

If you see yourself in this equation -- and be honest, 61 percent of us said we do -- Amatenstein has some suggestions for how to fix it. First, set some limits before the trip. "If it's something that really has to be done, the couple should sit down beforehand and figure out how it's going to work. Set boundaries around it, like only working between 10 a.m. to noon -- so it's still a vacation."

While recognizing the importance of work and income to the family, Puhn also underscores the importance of those boundaries. "I'm not saying you can't do any amount of work on vacation. We have to take stock of how our economy works. If you take a break for an hour to work, that's fine, but you have to stick to a plan,” she says. “Fights happen when people have mixed expectations. One person is thinking no work, and the other person is thinking it's just an hour or so," she says. But agree on that hour. "When you [are finished], you build confidence and show respect because you stuck to the plan."

But here's a question: Do you really need to be plugged in on vacation? Consider whether a perceived work requirement might actually be imaginary instead of essential. 

"The person has to ask, 'Why am I doing this? Do I really have to? Is it just anxiety and stress?' If you're realizing that you'd rather work than engage with family, then you can stop and address it. We get so used to being plugged in, it's almost scary and uncomfortable to not be."

Now let’s hear from you: Do you work while on vacation?

Alesandra Dubin is a Los Angeles-based writer and the founder of home and travel blog Homebody in Motion. Follow her on Google+ and Twitter.

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