IT pro's vacation planner: Must you unplug to unwind?

Follow our formula now, and you won't feel tempted to check in with the office while on vacation (well, maybe just once or twice ... )

Rod Masney believes it's a key part of his management role to encourage his employees to really disengage from their in high-pressure IT jobs -- to take a week or two at the beach or that long-awaited European tour.

Only problem, the global director of IT infrastructure at Owens-Illinois doesn't follow his own advice much.

"I believe people should strive for work/life balance, but I'm not very balanced," admits Masney, who is also the immediate past chairperson of the Americas' SAP User Group. "My PC bag is like my purse; it goes everywhere I go, and so does my BlackBerry. They're my safety blankets."

He's not alone. IT employees rank high among professionals most likely to contact the office when they're on vacation, second only to salespeople. According to the 2008 Vacation Survey conducted by CareerBuilder.com, of nearly 7,000 US workers polled, 37 per cent of those identified as IT employees plan to contact the office while on vacation, compared with 50 per cent of sales professionals and just 15 per cent of retail workers.

And some 19 per cent of IT workers said their employer expects them to work or check voice mail and e-mail during their time off.

Other tech professionals never even make it that far. Data from NFI Research, found that 75 per cent of IT workers have four weeks or more of vacation coming to them, but that only 39 per cent of that group takes their allotted time.

Tips for taking off

Clearly, when the goal is to take time off without checking into the office, tech employees have the deck stacked against them. Nevertheless, according to IT pros and human resource experts, it is possible to stay in the loop and recharge during your precious time off. Just follow this formula:

Do the prep work before you leave -- let people know in advance the dates you'll be away and finish up key deliverables before you go.

Surround yourself with good people who can reliably step up to the plate and solve problems when they occur. Encourage your staff to "backstop" one another so expertise is interchangeable and the department doesn't rely solely on one individual to get any one task done.

Establish escalation and problem-solving policies and document them well so there's clarity on what to do and who to call in the event of an emergency -- say, a network outage or any other type of system crash.

IT management needs to address vacation planning just as they would cover the departure of a key employee, says Eric Presley, chief technology officer at CareerBuilder.com. "You expect that you can absorb some turnover without projects being delayed -- it should be a similar thing when people go on vacation. There shouldn't be significant issues and have everything held up because a single person is out."

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Beth Stackpole

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