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Hey, Guess What? This man is on vacation!

Posted by: Michelle Conlin on November 15, 2007


Meet fancy, big-time, argues-before-the-Supreme Court lawyer Robert Greene Sterne. (Happy, Happy Birthday to you, Rob!) Here he is last May in Acapulco at Water Ski Paradise, going in for a waterside deep tissue. Ah, vacation. Only…woops. The first morning of Sterne’s first day a la plage, he got word from his law firm—DC-based Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox— that his first case before the Supreme Court—a high-stakes patent affair—had finally landed a decision.

Yes, that’s him—-getting the news from his office while enjoying some lumbar pressure pointing. What multitasking! The rest of Sterne’s fauxcation consisted of a montage of the the swim-trunked executive on a dock, a boat, and pool—all with cell phone in hand chatting up the press and other lawyers.

It’s not as if Sterne was going to delegate, outsource, or ignore his lustrous day in the sun. It’s just that, as so often happens, this lustrous day coincided with what was supposed to be an entirely different kind of day in the sun. Says one of his colleagues, “This is just one example of how he is regularly ‘here’ when he is not here.”

Such is the plight of the professional class panjandrum. The approach of vacation season made me remember Sterne's story, along with a great article in the Times today about how two big insurers are now offering trip cancellation coverage for those who have to ditch vacation plans because of work.

The Times story also brought to mind a story we did last summer about the new vacation disease, wherein half of all workers fail to take all of their vacation days. Americans take even less vacation than the Japanese, the people who gave rise to karoshi--the phenomenon of being worked to death. In our story we explored the syndomre of the boss burrowing in and attaching himself to us--Superbug like--coming right along with us in our travels. And we probled the all-too-familiar syndrome whereby people either stay at work when they should be vacating or continue working when they should be on vacation. The digital mistress--she is a wily one!

Yet, when I was researching the vacation disease story, what struck me most in talking with academics was this: "Everyone moans about how fiercely they're banging away, too swamped and spent to truly vacate. But is that true? More often than anyone wants to admit, vacation aversion is less about overwork than about self-delusion and narcissism. How many times have you heard a variant of: I can't go on vacation because Jim won't be able to handle my job?"

As Ken Siegel, president of Impact Group, a Los Angeles-based consortium of psychotherapists who counsel CEOs and other executives, says. "We're all going to die, and our companies will go on without us."

So, once again, let it be said. Enough with the egos. Do us a favor: take a vacation.

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How can you manage smarter? BusinessWeek writers Nanette Byrnes, Patricia O’Connell, Emily Thornton, Matthew Boyle, Michelle Conlin and Diane Brady synthesize insights from the brightest business thinkers, critique the latest management trends, and comment on leaders in the news.

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