SECURE JOB; STAY CONNECTED ON VACATION

Lower gasoline prices could boost travel this summer; welcome news for the nation’s tourist destinations.  However, one workplace expert warns that some destinations will fare better than others, as the recession and the fear of layoffs are likely to keep many Americans close to home and well-connected to the office via cell phone and email.

Destinations that rely heavily on tourists who live more than a day’s drive away will probably see a drop in business this summer.  Meanwhile, tourist attractions that rely mostly on local and regional visitors could thrive.

The pace of job cutting has declined every month since reaching a seven-year high of 241,749 in January, according to tracking by the Challenger firm.  However, job cuts remain at recession levels and have many workers in a constant state of anxiety.

We could see a further decline in job cuts this summer, as many companies postpone additional downsizing until the third and fourth quarters.  Unfortunately, the psychological impact on workers has already been established and they are in job-protection mode.

Employees who don’t have enough work to keep them busy are doing whatever they can to appear busy.  For others, the recession and layoffs have increased workloads, as they are asked to do more with less – less support staff, less productivity-enhancing technology and less training.

In either situation, workers will be reluctant to take a long, two-week vacation.  For many, even a weeklong absence from the workplace will produce too much anxiety to actually achieve a stress-free vacation.  They will make due with stretching holiday weekends, such as Memorial Day and Independence Day, into four- and five-day getaways, thus minimizing the time away from the office.

Car travel will be the vacation transportation mode of choice this summer.  A new AAA survey estimates that 32.4 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home over Memorial Day weekend, an increase of 1.5 percent from 2008.  The overwhelming majority (83 percent) of these holiday travelers are expected to reach their destination by car.

Air travel, on the other hand, is expected to drop significantly this summer.  A report released today by the Air Transport Association forecast that the number of airline passengers traveling between June 1 and August 31 will decline by seven percent from 2008 levels.

Budget-busting destinations, like Disney World and Hawaii will probably see a lot fewer tourists this summer.  The biggest benefactors of the downturn could be local zoos, amusement parks, national parks and campgrounds.  Many people may restrict their travel to within four hours of their homes, if they leave their homes at all.

In the current environment, where companies are making relatively quick decisions about staffing levels, being out of sight could lead to being out of a job.  This does not mean that employees should avoid even short getaways.  However, now more than ever, it is critical that vacationing employees stay connected while out of the office.

Take your cell phone, laptop, pager and hand-held electronic organizer wherever you vacation.  Let people know they can reach you if necessary.  And enjoy some peace of mind knowing you are not putting your work at risk by going away.

If you want to be missed a lot, do not disconnect.  If you are a team manager, stay in touch with your team members.  Make sure supervisors know your e-mail and cell phone number just in case you are needed.

As work-life balance grows in importance, some commentators deride what some call office-obsessed people who cannot shut off work even while vacationing.  But the same office-obsessed worker is recognized by the employer as someone who puts the needs of the company first and therefore will likely survive any workforce reductions.

People who are needed and who consistently respond to those needs are far down the list of candidates for downsizing. Even if your supervisor never calls you, the fact that you made it clear that the office is a top priority will be remembered.

The advice of wellness experts who urge workers to cut off all contact with the office while on vacation would be fine in a Utopian world.  But we live in the fiercely competitive real world, where employers cannot afford to put any piece of business in jeopardy because you are purposely unreachable.  Now is a particularly bad time to provoke any doubt about your commitment, because the pool of available, skilled replacements grows daily.

Technology has become so portable and so affordable that there really is no excuse anymore for not staying in touch.  You really don’t even have to lug your laptop around anymore.  Innovations like the Blackberry and iPhone make it possible to stay connected without being obtrusive.

It is very possible to have an enjoyable, relaxing vacation and still maintain communications with the employer and/or customers.

Challenger offered the following advice on ways vacationing workers can ensure the highest level of virtual visibility:

STAYING CONNECTED WHILE ON VACATION

  • Arrange with your hotel to have a fax machine installed in your room.  Chain hotels favored by business guests already have done so.
  • While most of the large hotels now offer Internet connections (some free, some for a fee), some of the smaller hotels and motels favored by budget-conscious travelers may not.  Prior to leaving, visit websites that can help you locate Wi-Fi hotspots near your hotel.
  • If traveling internationally, check with the hotel or car rental agency about leasing a cell phone capable of receiving/making international calls.
  • Do not change your voicemail to say you are on vacation and unavailable.  Customers may respond by seeking out a new source where someone is available.  Many newer phone systems allow you to forward calls to a cell phone.
  • If you don’t have call forwarding, check voicemails throughout the day and respond personally.
  • Check e-mails regularly and respond or arrange for someone at the office to respond.
  • Provide cell phone number, hotel phone number and/or e-mail to your supervisor so they can reach you.
  • Make sure your laptop or smartphone is set up to retrieve your emails on the road.
  • During the workweek, check in with your supervisor and/or a colleague in your department at least twice a day (once in the morning and once in the afternoon).
  • Make sure you have synched up your PDA so that your calendar, Rolodex, e-mail history, and to-do list are current.
  • Make sure to bring the various chargers and A/C adaptors for your cell phone and laptop.