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Why are we Working in the Summer?

Our firm is a member of IIC Partners, one of the top 10 retained executive search groups in the world with 46 offices in 35 countries.  Several months ago, I volunteered to lead a work group to conduct IIC’s first-ever global survey.  The topic we chose was succession planning and we will be able to share what we believe will be some very interesting results in the fall.

The survey was drafted, vetted and ready to go by mid-June.  The plan was to invite participation during July.

Throughout this project, I have learned quite a bit about cultural differences, language, gender bias and various other nuances of trying to get a group of 10 people from 10 different countries to agree on survey questions.  Let’s just say I understand now why the United Nations needs such a big building in New York – and a peace-keeping force.  But we soldiered on and the survey went live.

That’s when I learned about another cultural difference:  working in the summer.

Some of our partner firms flat-out told us that they essentially close their businesses for the better part of either July or August.  Business slows to a trickle over the summer months and most of their clients are gone.  That’s just the way it is.

Then there are the people who are on holiday/vacation/leave – call it what you like.  They have messages that say that they will be out of the office until a particular date and that they will not be checking email or phone messages.  Then they actually don’t check email or phone messages.

When I first moved to the Philadelphia area in the late 1970s to start my career, I learned pretty quickly that the month of August was very slow in terms of business activity.  People were “down the shore” and largely checked out of their business and professional lives.  And when they were on vacation, they were on vacation.

Today, in the U.S., there really isn’t any discernible summer month that is so slow that you wonder why you bother to come to work.  And nobody, but nobody, believes those Out of Office messages that say you are not checking email.  Clients expect that you will stay in touch.  You can’t even use the excuse that you were somewhere without wireless Internet or cell phone service – those places don’t seem to exist anymore.  It’s no wonder that at least 61 percent of Americans will work during their vacations this year, up from 52 percent in 2012 and 46 percent in 2011.

I take a two-week vacation each summer with my family.  I tell everyone in my office where to find me and to call with any questions or problems at all.  I try not to look at my email, since someone else is doing that.  Ten years ago it was easy – I really forgot about it.  Now, maybe since it is so easy to stay plugged in, I have to fight the urge to stay in touch, even though I know my colleagues are on top of things.

I’m jealous of my global colleagues, who apparently have discovered that life goes on without them.  I was going to ask them how they do it – how they just disconnect, hoping I can learn from them.  But no one wants to talk to me until September.

Do you feel the same way?  How do you disconnect from an always-connected world?

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