Vacation time is here, but for some, it's all work and no play

July 26, 1995|By Jennifer Steinhauer | Jennifer Steinhauer,New York Times News Service

When Brian Fraidin invites friends to go away with him on vacation, he speaks frankly. Don't get too excited, he warns, because he will probably cancel. In fact, he regularly aborts trips just days before they are supposed to happen. He can live with disappointing others, he said, because work comes first.

"Sitting on a beach sounds appealing to me," said Mr. Fraidin, who owns a venture capital firm in Baltimore and took his last vacation three years ago (it was a weekend trip to Florida). "But once the day is over, what have you accomplished?"

Summer travel is booming, agents are reporting huge numbers of bookings, and travel during May was up 11 percent from the same period last year, said Steve Loucks, a spokesman for the American Society of Travel Agents in Alexandria, Va.

Yet, there are still some feverish holdouts who refuse to leave their office chairs, even when colleagues have long ago left to burn under the sun. They just cannot seem to take all the time they have coming to them, even when their employers insist they must.

Those who go months and even years without vacations do so for a variety of reasons, including widespread layoffs that have increased the workload on individuals, economic insecurity and simple garden-variety neuroses, said human-resource managers and employees in more than a dozen companies around the country.

In interviews, a fairly consistent portrait of vacation-free employees emerged. They tend to be salaried rather than wage employees, often working in management. Most said their own sense of responsibility, or fear of how bosses might react to requests, pushed them to work hard.

"I hadn't been at the company very long," said Elizabeth English, 29, a senior programmer at Lehman Brothers in New York.

"So I felt eight days were too many to take last year. It seems hard to get away in general because there are so many demands to be met. It took me four weeks to ask for a vacation this year, and even then, I asked for it in e-mail."

Certain professions, such as advertising, law and financial trading seem to draw these people. Eileen Canty, an organizational psychologist in New York, said that they were easy to spot.

"People say, 'For my vacation, I'm going to paint the garage,' " she said. "They feel they always have to get something done."

A just-released survey done for the Hilton Hotels Corp. found that 38 percent of adults in the United States have not taken a vacation in at least a year.

The travel industry is coming up with new ways to snare those who can afford only weekend getaways, and airlines have increased the number of rock-bottom fares they offer for fast trips to places like Paris, where travelers can presumably take a bite of a croissant, wipe their mouths, and then head back to the airport. "The offerings of four-day, three-night packages to places like London or Paris have dramatically increased in just a couple of years," Mr. Loucks said.

Jon Firestone, president and chief executive of BBDO, Minneapolis, an advertising agency, said: "We find that most of our senior employees never use up all of their vacation. It is just consistent with the dedication and kind of drive that got them where they are to begin with."

Some people said that visions of an overflowing in-box would destroy the scant thrill brought on by a jaunt to Martha's Vineyard.

"I haven't taken a vacation for three or four years," said Daniel Braun, 34, a vice president of graphic services at a New York advertising agency. "If I took one, I would just have more work when I came back."

Companies often offer incentives to encourage workers to take vacations because the unused time is treated by their accountants as debt. To address the problem, many companies push their employees to take vacation time by refusing to allow them to roll it over to the next year. Others offer workers a chance to "purchase" time by taking payroll deductions in exchange for an extra week of vacation. The logic may be that if it costs them something, workers will feel they deserve it.

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