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Managers who live to work; A new survey claims one in ten company managers only take half of their holiday entitlement, with increasing numbers of executives making sure they can be contacted by their office while they are away. But is a refusal to take a proper holiday any real guide to occupational success? After all, US President George W Bush is to take a month-long vacation this summer. Gabrielle Fagan reports.

Byline: Gabrielle Fagan

The average British manager might appear to be happily relaxing on the beach with his wife and kids, but don't be fooled.

It's all a front - in reality all he's thinking about is work, work, work.

A new survey reveals that a staggering 75 per cent of executives stay in contact with their colleagues while on their annual summer break.

Along with the sun cream, they pack mobiles and laptops so they can check the deluge of e-mails and ensure they don't miss anything while away from their desks.

An identikit of that workaholic, revealed in research by the Institute of Management, shows him preferring to holiday in the UK, America or Spain, and trying to enjoy historical attractions or the beach. He unwinds with a few novels by John Grisham, John Le Carre or Tom Clancy.

In fact, he's easily spotted, phone clamped to his ear, distractedly watching his long-suffering families relax while he fields office queries and contracts.

It's apparently part of a growing 'live to work' culture - which some claim originated in America - that sees one in ten managers only taking half of their holiday leave.

The Institute found that 30 per cent of UK managers spent at least a quarter of their holiday thinking about the office.

A proportion pressed by heavy workloads may feel there's no choice, but others believe appearing indispensable and conscientious is the fast track to career success.

But that's not the verdict of George Cox, director general of the Institute of Directors, who says the trend is 'appalling'.

He condemns it as 'a sign of weakness, ill-discipline, inefficiency and a failure to delegate. Men who do this are not being somehow macho by working all hours, they are being stupid.

'I would say to people who do this to get a life. Not switching off and taking a complete break is detrimental to your work and will eventually affect your performance. It's vital to mentally refresh yourself and regain your perspective.

'But most importantly, it must be detrimental to family life. How can you enjoy your partner and children if you are continually distracted by work?'

And he warns that bosses and employees must work together to ensure that it is curbed.

'There is a huge difference between being contactable in a crisis, and being 'on call' for every small decision.

'Those who become over obsessed and cannot switch off are, in my view, not ready for a promotion because those qualities don't make you a good executive.

'And after all, when you are on your death bed you don't regret not reading company reports, you regret perhaps not enjoying your family or the pleasurable things in life.'

Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at Manchester University, says employees cannot 'break the psychological umbilical cord with work' when they are on holiday.

'Ironically, technology allows them to indulge that as they can easily keep in touch and work from anywhere.'

He believes it is partly to do with growing fears about unemployment if there is a predicted economic downturn, and also ever increasing workloads.

He says: 'We are on the road to burn-out in this country amongst managers and executives, which will affect productivity. People work longer and longer hours, and spend less and less effective time with their families.'

And he pointed out: 'What can employees do if something serious arises in the office - probably nothing. But knowledge of it may well ruin their holiday and prevent them relaxing. It also transmits the stress of work to the family, which is unfair and destructive to relationships.'

He believes a driven approach to a job can result in a poor work/life balance and can make an employee appear 'vulnerable' rather than confident.

'It shows more self-belief in your ability, and demonstrates that you're properly organised, if you can successfully take a break without keeping in contact.

'If managers do feel it is necessary to keep in touch they should ring fence the time they spend talking to the office so it has the minimum effect on the holiday and family.

'Try to make early morning calls before the kids get up, or while they're busy with an activity that doesn't involve you. But ideally get a complete break to avoid overload.'

He identifies the trend of three out of four managers staying in contact with the office, which has leapt by nine per cent over figures polled last year, as part of the culture of 'presenteeism'.

The opposite of absenteeism, it means workers increasingly feeling they should be working for longer and harder than in the past, and even suffering guilt if they take legitimate time off for sickness or vacations.

In America the work ethic dubbed '24/7' - working round the clock every day - has long been accepted.

But maybe American President George Bush will turn the trend. He's spent nearly half his presidency on holiday, and is currently on a 30-day break at his Texas ranch.

When he returns to Washington he will have spent 54 days there, plus 42 other days on breaks.

He maintains 'it keeps my mind whole, and keeps my spirits up'.

British managers could take a leaf out of his book.

But it may cheer up their wives and partners to know that also on the summer holiday nearly half (47 per cent) question their lifestyle, and one in ten change their jobs.

Possibly unfortunately, for 18 per cent a holiday has the effect of increasing interest in their career.


President Bush walks along to the 18th hole during a round of golf with friends in Texas, where he is spending a month-long vacation at his ranch in Crawford
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Aug 15, 2001
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