Seat 2B By Joe Brancatelli
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What Kind Of Vacationing Businessperson Are You?
July 21, 2016 -- It's the big question of summer: when on vacation, should you unplug or stay connected?
In the unplug camp, two surveys fell into my inbox warning business travelers who don't take a break from email and such while on vacation that they could burn out.
But as an argument for the need to keep tab of what's happening at the office, look at the story of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the increasingly authoritarian president of Turkey. Erdogan's government didn't crash and burn last week because he didn't unplug on vacation.
What are you going to believe? A couple of well-meaning surveys or a strongman who knew what was going on back at the office and made clever use of an app to mobilize fanatic followers?
Since the U.S. news networks do a poor job covering world affairs, I'll assume you missed a few key facts about last week's foiled uprising. You probably didn't know Erdogan was on holiday in the Turkish seaside resort of Marmaris when the so-called "Colonel's coup" was launched in Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey's capital.
But unlike Mikhail Gorbachev, caught incommunicado at a Crimean dacha during a 1991 coup in the disintegrating Soviet Union, Erdogan was never off the grid. He learned of the mutiny and escaped from the Grand Yazici Club Turban before insurgents raided the premises. Even though the state broadcaster was already in the hands of rebels, he used a FaceTime videoconference to call a CNN Turk broadcaster. She held her mobile to the cameras while Erdogan exhorted supporters to take to the streets and resist the coup.
Simply put, Erdogan saved his government by staying on the grid while on holiday along Turkey's so-called Turquoise Coast. If he were doing what the surveys suggest — blissing out, ignoring text, emails and news from the home office — he'd probably be in jail or in exile.
Given Erdogan's post-coup crackdown this week — more than 50,000 supposed plotters have been arrested and a three-month state of emergency has been declared — we could possibly wish that the Turkish president wasn't so diligent and devoted to staying in the loop. But that's not really the point for us run-of-the-mill road warriors. We've still got to decide how we handle our downtime.
Once upon a time, say about 30 years ago, this wasn't even an issue. When we went on the road then, there was very little pressure, and very little technical ability, to "keep in touch."
In the days before faxes and pagers, then email and laptops and today's cascade of communications options, we called back to the office on payphones. We decided how often, and how long, to talk to folks back in the metaphoric salt mines. There was no expectation that we would be constantly available to our bosses and subordinates and no practical way to control events back at the office while we were gone.
Even if we didn't know it then, it was blissful. We flew somewhere, checked into a hotel, did our business and pretty much left the office (and our family affairs) in the hands of others. We concentrated on what we were doing on the road and we assumed business back home got taken care of by others.
Not today, of course. We're now expected to do our business travel and be constantly available to those we've left behind. We're tapped into conference calls while we're running through airports and managing home matters as we're checking into a hotel thousands of miles away. Not even WiFi-equipped planes are a sanctuary anymore. Nothing is too important or too menial to ignore while we're on the road.
The solution, however, may be worse than the cure. If we make the conscious decision to unplug, we're not likely to lose our presidency to muntineers a la Erdogan, but we'll surely earn the enmity of those we leave behind. And just think of all the emails piling up in our inbox, all those sales reports and actionable memos plopped on our desktops. The work won't go away. It's almost certain to be there when we get back and it could take us weeks to catch up.
"I know the experts say you should relax and rewind when you're on vacation, but I can't imagine not zipping through my email when I'm away," admits Nancy Foulcard, a frequent-flying sales executive. "It's much easier to devote an hour a day to office work when I'm away. That guarantees I won't be underwater when I return and it gives me peace of mind while I'm away."
Ironically, I got that email from Foulcard on Monday afternoon — while she was on holiday this week in the South of France. She was responding to an email I'd sent her Sunday asking about the topic.
Like Foulcard, I religiously check my email when I'm on road. My clients always know where I am on holiday. And back when it was called answering-machine messages rather than voice mail, I had a favorite pay phone kiosk near the corner of Kalakaua and Kapahulu avenues in Honolulu. Just a few paces from the sands of Waikiki Beach, I'd grab my messages, then return calls before the close of business back East. I put out many a fire while staring at the Pacific and thinking, "Geez, this call is gonna look ugly on the expense account."
Still, I know many others who heed the warnings of the relax-or-burn-out-too-soon surveys. They religiously put away their mobiles, toggle the vacation message on their email accounts and totally unplug. What happens back in the office stays back in the office when they choose to leave it.
"It's a matter of discipline," frequent flyer Steve Salander tells me. "I don't check my email on the weekends or when I'm on vacation. It's a promise I make to my family. There's nothing that won't wait until Monday or can't be handled by someone else while I'm gone."
If you don't have Salander's iron will, you can always find a hotel or resort that will help you get off the grid. In fact, hardly a day goes by that someone doesn't write the how-and-where to get off-grid story. And I have a stack of reports about companies that somehow reimburse employees for staying away from their email.
I don't think there's a right answer. Do what works for you. Don't deny your inner Erdogan if you feel you should never be out of touch. And if you want to stop the world and get off, that's fine, too.
After all, what are the odds you'll end up deposed from power while you soak up the sun at a seaside getaway?