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FEATURE: Sand, sea, surf... and the office
[February 08, 2011]

FEATURE: Sand, sea, surf... and the office

SINGAPORE, Feb 08, 2011 (The Straits Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- The only time sales manager Daniel Pang has never worked while on holiday was when he was on his honeymoon two years ago.

Otherwise, the 28-year-old Singaporean, who sells card printers and embossers to distributors in the Southeast Asian region, travels everywhere with his laptop and logs on every day while on vacation.

He does not mind receiving business phone calls either and says matter-of-factly: "The more phone calls I get, the happier I am. Every phone call is an opportunity for sales and to earn commission." He says that being contactable while on leave is an unspoken expectation in his company, adding: "My boss allows us to send SMS messages or contact him when he is on leave. It's part of our work culture." But for Mr Pang's wife, marketing manager Ruth Lim, waiting for him to attend to his work can mean half a day of sightseeing time wasted.

The 30-year-old, who is the opposite of her husband and never travels with her BlackBerry mobile phone, says his workaholic nature while on vacation has led to squabbles between them.

But she acknowledges that the culture at her office is different from that of her husband's: "My bosses are understanding and they don't usually bother me when I'm on leave. I don't bother them when they are on leave either." While the ability to access work e-mail on the go has helped to improve office productivity, it also comes with its disadvantages, namely, the rise of the fake-ation.

The term, coined by travel and hotel review site, is used to describe a vacation where one continues to work by checking and answering e-mail, despite being on leave.

Technological advances have led to 59 per cent of American travellers being more connected to work than ever while on holiday last year, says the website.

Singaporeans are just as guilty of checking on work when they are supposed to be on vacation.

Singapore Hotel Association executive director Margaret Heng says Internet connection is one of the top three wants of guests -- Singaporean and international -- upon check-in. This is followed by a wide range of cable television programmes and ease of check-in and check-out services.

Internet connectivity, she adds, is no longer sought only by business travellers but also leisure travellers and the younger generation of tech-savvy travellers.

As a result, she says, "more hotels are offering free in-room Internet access to guests in recent years".

Even hotel and resort chain Banyan Tree offers complimentary wi-fi access in its villas at Angsana Velavaru in the Maldives, a place where people go to be cut off from the rest of the world.

According to its spokesman, Internet connectivity is most requested by Singaporeans. They tend to check if it is provided before confirming their reservation. On the other hand, she says, European guests do not ask for Internet connectivity at all.

To deter guests from getting too carried away by work while on holiday, Angsana Velavaru does not have a proper business centre. Instead, only two laptops are provided at the resort's bar for guests.

With regional responsibilities to oversee even while he is away on holiday, general manager Adrian Mok says it is "okay for work to be a little disruptive". The 36-year-old is in charge of selling sports heart-rate monitors in the Asia Pacific region and manages 11 people in his company.

He says it is not possible for him to ignore work, especially if he is away for more than a week. However, he manages his time by getting up around 6am to check e-mail before his five-year-old son and wife wake up, or at night after they go to bed.

He does get annoyed if his vacation is interrupted by problems that are not urgent or which can be solved by someone else back at the office in Singapore.

"Time with my family is precious because I'm usually very busy on normal working days," he says. As a boss, he tries not to contact his staff unless it is absolutely necessary. He trains them to multi-task so they are adequately prepared to cover for whoever is on leave.

Consultancy firm LifeWorkz chief executive Cheryl Liew-Chng says that given the fast pace of work where employees are expected to take on multiple roles and projects, it is increasingly difficult to stop the habit of checking one's e-mail even when one is not expected to.

She adds that it is common for employees to feel obliged to work on holiday as they may think that not responding promptly might jeopardise a promotion or bonus.

She says employers should "respect and value the personal space of the individual" and allow employees to de-stress on holiday so that they come back re-energised and refreshed for the job.

HR consultancy firms The GMP Group and Achieve Group also say employees do have a right to be uncontactable when they are on holiday. Nor should they worry about any repercussions.

Mr Josh Goh, GMP Group's assistant director of corporate services, says being on call 24/7 gives a false impression of good performance and may not necessarily give one an edge over colleagues.

He adds: "Instead, it suggests a poor distribution of work and lack of communication between staff members. An effective team should be able to continue daily operations even when one of its team members is unavailable." Achieve chief executive Joshua Yim believes in attaining "a certain degree of work-life balance".

He says: "As long as an employee discharges his responsibilities accordingly, I don't think the company can fault him for choosing not to be contactable during his vacation." Indeed, not giving yourself a break from work can take a toll on your health, says Raffles Hospital clinical psychologist Danny Ng.

He says: "The human body is not designed to go on indefinitely. Even machines have regular servicing and maintenance checks to keep them running efficiently." If a person does not know how to take a break from stress, it is highly likely that he will "burn out" and end up feeling extremely lethargic and unmotivated, he adds.

Dr Chris Tsoi, a consultant with National University Hospital's department of psychological medicine, says it all boils down to a person's perception of work.

Those who enjoy what they do and view it positively will not feel it a burden to check on their work while on holiday. However, he says these people could "jeopardise their family relations" as holidays are a chance for them to catch up and bond with family.

Family relations are also at risk for those who are forced to work on holiday begrudgingly with no chance to release their pent-up stress. He says these people tend to be moody and temperamental and are likely to lash out at their loved ones. "It's a vicious circle," he adds.

Mr Mohamed Nawaz, director of Bodypulse Enrichment, confesses to having been a moody workaholic who postponed holidays for work when he was a contract teacher at a secondary school eight years ago. He quit to set up a company that specialises in conducting body wellness and stress and anger management courses for students and companies.

Now, the 32-year-old leaves his mobile phone at home during his holidays and refuses to check e-mail even though it could mean losing potential projects worth up to S$8,000 if he is away for more than a week.

"The work never ends. When it is time to relax, I must relax. I come back recharged and it makes such a difference for me for the rest of the year," he says.

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