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Getting away getting harder

By Amy Joyce
The Washington Post

It seems like the perfect time to look forward to a nice week-long vacation. We’ve faced a war, a recession, a bad winter, SARS, orange alerts, duct tape and layoffs.

And these are all reasons, apparently, why people are not taking those earned vacations.

“I think because of the economic climate we’re in, many folks are very short-staffed. What we’re finding is many of the executives are holding down dual responsibilities,” said Allen Salikof, president and chief executive of Management Recruiters International, and one more executive who will skip his usual European vacation this year. “Demands on time are making getting away more and more difficult, especially with companies in the state they’re in today. ... I think executives are really buckling down and saying they can’t afford to get away like they used to.”

Nearly half of American executives expect to make fewer vacation plans in 2003, many citing the demands of their job, according to a survey by MRI. Of the 730 executives who responded to the survey, 47 percent said they will not use the vacation time they are entitled to this year. Of that group, 58 percent said the demands of their jobs were the primary reason they would not make a getaway this year.

Salikof knows executives who are taking long weekends rather than two-week vacations. In the past seven months, Salikof has taken off about three days. He does not mind so much. His children are grown and married. It is the younger executives and managers — those with young children who deserve some family time — he worries about, he said.

He expects there are fewer people taking vacations at every level of employment, not just executives. “They are also faced with the same situation. Individuals are doing the work of more than one person. They also want to say, ‘I’m a good team player,’ and that means job security,” he said. “I think in many ways it sends a message to executives from those who say, ‘I’m going to put my personal life on hold for a while, while I step up to the plate.’”

Not that Salikof agrees with it. Paid vacation, he said, is there for a reason. “People need to get away from it, relax, clear their head, build up energy,” he said. Including Salikof. He realizes that with this current schedule, he has not had time to refresh and think about his job in a large way for quite some time.

His schedule includes three or four evening business meetings, from which he doesn’t get home until 10:30, and he returns to the office by 6 a.m. He also works many weekends, and spends a few days a week on business travel.

“Getting away gives you the clarity to think,” Salikof said. “I haven’t had the time to relax and spend some time thinking about the business, rather than working on the day-to-day issues that arise.”

He is probably more the rule than the exception when it comes to this year’s vacations.

In the past two months, as experts expected and hoped unemployment would drop, nearly 450,000 jobs were lost.

John Challenger, chief executive of Chicago outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., noted that hotel and restaurant workers’ made up a large portion of those job cuts.

“People are not traveling overseas anywhere near the degree even they were last year,” he said. “Job security right now is also very fragile. ... You don’t even want work to pile up for a minute or someone will feel your work is not getting done or you are not essential.”

According to AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman Lon Anderson, more people this year are driving to closer locations for vacation, or taking shorter trips. “A shorter vacation is less expensive and you miss less work,” Anderson said. “You probably won’t want to be away for as long.”

Of those Americans who may travel this summer, 43 percent were most troubled by the economy, while 26 percent were concerned with the war, 16 percent worried about the threat of terrorism, and 12 percent were most anxious about SARS.

Salikof, who is based in Cleveland, said everyone needs a vacation to relax and refresh. But he did not have too much time to elaborate. He had to catch a flight to Philadelphia — for a business meeting.