Before Vacation, An Out-of-Office Experience
Monday, June 19, 2006
You know that last day before you leave on vacation? Those last hours when you're crunchin' on a double work pile, trying to get everything finished, but your brain is already splashing in the surf?
As the Eagles song says, "You're al-l-l-l-ready gone!" But, sorry, you're not.
Whether that last day finds you slumped or pumped, the pre-vacation mentality remains a workplace conundrum that's more intense than ever.
"You're already kind of checked out, you're daydreaming about what you're going to do, you can't wait to shuck off the work and the stress. The weather's nice, a breeze is blowing through your hair -- how do you work with that image in your mind?" says John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., a Chicago-based outplacement consulting firm.
Challenger attributes that dawdling last day, in part, to the mind-set and emotions hard-wired in us throughout our early life. "As you get closer, it is like a mini adult version of that last week of school heading into summer vacation," he says, his voice growing dreamier at the thought.
Besides racing to finish unfinished business at work, pre-vacationers are consumed with other countdown craziness. Water the plants. Feed the fish. Clean the house. Turn on the out-of-office reply message. Stop the mail and newspaper. Set the light timers. Lose weight. Pack the bags. Six out of 10 burglaries occur through unlocked doors!
"Pre-vacation exhaustion and disengagement" is what some psychologists call it. Employers call it other names.
"Teachers recognize they're not going to get much work out of their students that day," says Challenger, who announced in March that some employers were concerned about the productivity drain resulting from televising NCAA "March Madness" daytime basketball games. "Smart managers, the attuned ones, recognize it, too."
Cynthia M. Piccolo says the one-foot-out-the-door mentality is something like a workplace disorder, similar to day-after-Thanksgiving syndrome. "Typical onset is several days prior to vacation, during which time sufferers abandon their regular work and spend their time in a fog of obsessive minutia," she writes in a humor article on the medical job site MedHunters.com. "In rare instances where the individual engages in work activity, he is semi-functional, existing in a dreamlike state of altered consciousness, obsessed with fantasies about the upcoming trip."
Not all pre-vacationers are blissed out. Robert Bové says he hits the wall separating work and vacation, and hits it hard. And he's a teacher.
"Sometimes the day of the last class is just about getting the hell out of Dodge," says Bové, a poet in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y., who teaches English at St. Francis College and is leaving next week for a long vacation in Scotland.
Just as classes end, Bové says he's immersed in course plans for next year and writing grad- and law-school recommendation letters, while his wife, Gae, is "like a tornado" preparing for their trip.