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travel_homespun_8_5RISMEDIA, August 5, 2009-(MCT)-Sunshine glowed on patches of mountain snow. An occasional trout broke the sparkling Maggie Pond. A gentle breeze stirred the fir tree outside our Breckenridge, Colo., window.

Inside, five laptops hummed. Welcome to summer vacation, 2009.

Thanks to a free WiFi connection, we were tethered to our jobs back in Kansas City and Dallas. Two CPAs, a lawyer, a geographic information systems specialist and me: We kept up.

Here’s where rational thinkers say: Stop. The point of vacations is to get away, refresh, refuel. It’s counterproductive to even think about work when you’re supposed to be gone.

Here’s also where rational thinkers say: Get away? In your dreams. In today’s fast-paced, do-more-with-less workplaces, you can’t cut ties. It’s harder to get back in gear if you don’t keep up while you’re gone, and that’s particularly true for the self-employed. Nobody worked more “on vacation” than the self-employed worker among us.

Of course, many workers this year couldn’t take a vacation at all. No time. No money. And even the idea of a “staycation” was farfetched for the thousands of unemployed job hunters.

Workplace consultants have noted that even the safely employed – if there is such a thing – worry about taking time off. They fear falling victim to the next layoff round if they don’t stay visible and productive.

As the United States wrestles with what to do with its health care and health insurance systems, analysts note that other developed nations, especially in Europe, take more time off from work than we do. And their middle-aged citizens are about half as likely to have heart disease, hypertension or diabetes. Many Americans eat unhealthy diets, don’t get enough exercise and are overweight. Some smoke. All those factors contribute to poor health. More than three dozen developed countries now report longer average life spans than the American average.

These health factors are fueling a push for vacations – mandatory, paid vacations – because it’s clear that time off for many workers isn’t happening on its own.

There’s a bill in the U.S. House, the Paid Vacation Act of 2009. Odds are that it won’t get much traction this year with the larger economic and health-care issues on the table. An organization, Take Back Your Time, is backing the bill for all the stress-reduction reasons mentioned above. But critics of the bill abound. Many business owners are against any more government mandates and any more employee benefit expenses.

Meanwhile, it’s unlikely that a week or two of summer vacation, paid or not, will be the stress detox needed for busy workers.

(c) 2009, The Kansas City Star.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.