Careers: No Vacation from Job Stress

IT professionals return to find accumulated problems; some must interrupt vacations to solve problems remotely

A new survey suggests that many IT professionals return from their summer vacations as stressed as they were when they departed—if they get to take a vacation at all.

The problem, says one research firm, is that IT workers are vacationing in dread of the barrage of technical problems that accumulate in their absence. Even if they aren’t worrying about work that’s building up, the survey finds, IT professionals are vacationing in fear of another all-too-real possibility: Getting called while on vacation and summoned back to work.

Data security researcher CoreProtect surveyed 228 IT managers and staff and found that 72 percent experience apprehension about returning to work and dealing with issues that have developed while they were on vacation. More alarming still, almost one quarter—23 percent—of IT professionals report that they have received work-related phone calls while on vacation.

Don Lester, an IT administrator with Clinitech Information Resources, says that he recently returned from a blessedly undisturbed vacation of his own. In large IT organizations, he suggests, the “on call” vacation is just a fact of life for many professionals. “We have a large enough IT shop that nobody is really expected to be a 'jack of all trades'. That carries with it the reality that everyone is going to be a specialist at something, which makes them the 'go to' resource whenever there is a problem with their particular specialty,” he points out.

In Lester’s experience, very few IT professionals are able to take “genuine” vacations. “[Most] of us are a quick cell phone call away in the event of catastrophe back at work,” he comments, noting that the primary Web developer at his site recently departed for a two-week vacation. “I know he worked at least four of those days. That isn't the norm, but it is an example of what can happen.What usually happens is you just get a call every once in a while asking what to do for some specific issue. It is oftentimes resolved in an hour or two and you resume your vacation. Of course, that means the reality of a vacation is likely just what you are writing about. You never really get away completely.”

CoreProtect’s poll asked IT professionals to identify some of the tasks they most dread dealing with when they return from vacation. From their responses, the company compiled a top-ten list of nightmare scenarios, which include application corruption, unauthorized downloading of applications, security breaches, server failures, e-mail interruptions, hard drive corruptions, virus attacks and last—but not least—backup failures.

A software engineer with a major telecommunications services provider says that the CoreProtect poll also doesn’t take into account the stress experienced by colleagues of vacationing coworkers, who often have to pick up the slack in their absence as a result of staff shortages caused—in his case—by serial layoffs. “One of our software engineers is going on vacation next week and hasn’t finished a project that he’s been working on. Because I finished with my own project more than 90 hours ahead of schedule, my reward is that I get to finish his [project] for him,” he laments.

In the past, this software engineer has postponed or rearranged vacation plans to accommodate unfinished projects. He says that he’s almost always on call when he vacations; on several occasions he’s also had to return to work in the midst of a planned vacation. “At this point, we have to schedule vacation time months ahead of schedule because of [staff] shortages. We are also expected to work extra hours to make up for the vacation time that we take,” he concludes.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.