Ah, summer. Relaxing days with the family, long weekends full of leisure activities, and exotic vacations.

Yeah, right.

According to a recent survey from Robert Half International, the vast majority (73 percent) of CIOs said they check in with work “often” or “somewhat often” on evenings and weekends, while only 14 percent said they never check in outside normal business hours.

“First, I’d like to congratulate these CIOs on having a life,” writes ZDNet editor-in-chief Larry Dignan on the survey. “Second, I hope this survey is anonymous since that 14 percent is likely to be hunted down and fired.”

However, it’s not just CIOs that are doing this. In fact, all sorts of people are more likely to work nights and weekends, writes Dana Gagnon of TrainSignal Training. “A Pew Research Center study of email habits from 2008 found 50 percent of workers check emails on weekends (22 percent of them often), but this number has likely increased over the last five years,” she writes. “According to one 2012 survey from consulting company Right Management, 37 percent of employees frequently receive weekend emails from their bosses and feel like they’re expected to respond.” In addition, while the average full-time employee’s workday has remained at about 8.4 hours the past several years, the proportion of people who work on the weekends has risen to 35 percent, according to the Department of Labor’s 2012 American Time Use Survey.

Well, so what’s wrong with that? CIOs are paid well; why shouldn’t they have to put in the time? “For most CIOs, the job doesn’t end at the close of business,” agrees John Reed, senior executive director of Robert Half Technology. “With weekend software deployments, and customers and end users around the world who require around the clock technical support, IT groups typically operate 24/7, and CIOs often need to be available if critical issues arise.”

Besides, CNN notes, working on weekends also means you can get more done without interruption, and of course it can make you look good.

On the other hand, even Reed says that regularly working weekends and not taking vacations aren’t good ideas. “It’s beneficial for even the busiest IT professionals — including CIOs — to disconnect when possible,” he writes. ”Taking a break from work allows technology leaders to recharge and approach their work with fresh perspectives.”

And working nights and weekends doesn’t necessarily make you look good, to either your bosses or your staff. “Sending work-related e-mails on Saturday or Sunday to co-workers says ‘Hey, I’m over-committed and trying to catch up,’ and ‘I’m expecting you to work weekends too!,’ writes blogger Phillip Smith. “Even if neither are the message you intended, that’s the signal it sends.” It also keeps you from getting new data from different sources that can help make your work more innovative, he says.

Moreover, taking a vacation shows you’re a leader who values work-life balance and that you trust your group to work well even when you’re not there – something that’s even more important as the economy improves, writes Kim Nash in CIO. How can they miss you if you never go away?

So what’s a CIO to do?

If this is the summer when you decide you actually want to take time away from your job, here are some tips for a successful work-free vacation.

  1. Set milestones and regular check-ins, but otherwise let your people be in charge, particularly if you’re ostensibly away.
  2. Taking a break goes both ways. Do you really need to have a deadline on Fourth of July week or a meeting at 5 pm on a Friday? “If your work environment calls for employees to be in touch around the clock, then it’s important everyone shares that same understanding,” writes Michael Haid, Senior Vice President of Talent Management for Right Management. “But if you are a boss that’s working on the weekend because that is just your style and your only time to catch up, then let employees know if it’s okay for them not to respond during their down time.”
  3. Decide to what extent you will work during vacations and weekends, and communicate this to staff — both up and down.
  4. Plan your departure — make sure things aren’t left hanging, writes Lori Deschene — and plan your return — for example, not on a Monday and don’t spend the first day reading all your email, writes Steve Huffman of HealthSystemsCIO.
  5. Force yourself. Pick a time to take a break from work and put it on your to-do list like any other chore.

Have fun. Don’t forget to write.

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