As a career professional, I spend lots of time discussing benefits packages with my clients. What I’ve discovered is that the type of benefits package offered by a company can often trump salary for many people (or at least be a strong deciding factor). And although health care is a main topic of concern, perhaps the next biggest issue is vacation time.

I have seen many clients use vacation time as a bargaining chip when negotiating a work contract. I have seen many clients brag about the generous vacation packages offered by this company or that. I have even seen some clients leave companies over lack of vacation time (yes, it’s true) or over demands that they “check in” while on vacation.

So without a doubt, vacation time matters…or so we say…

In a discussion on Twitter regarding Gen-Y work-related issues, participants were adamant that this next generation of workers will not stand for anything less than a proper work-life balance. Period. End of story. They are not caving in so companies better beware! (It was all so very…romantic.)

To which, I say, “Phooey.”

That’s right. I don’t believe it.

And here’s why…

In today’s work environment, taking a true vacation (you know one where you disconnect and actually hang out with family and friends instead of, well, working) is getting harder, not easier, to do.

And it has nothing to do with the amount of vacation time you receive, and even less to do with the company’s expectations that you “check in.”

The truth is that we live in an age that no longer has the ability to understand what it means to “disconnect” (I mean, after all, we seem to want to keep all those high-school friends we were so anxious to shed 20 years ago now that we have Facebook) and we secretly (or maybe not so secretly) have disdain for people who do achieve total “disconnection” (“I texted you.” “I e-mailed you.” “I messaged you on Facebook.” “And you took a week to respond to me!”). We’ve certainly lost touch with what a true emergency is. We just don’t want to wait. (Remember when people used to respect “dinner time” or “business hours”?) Frankly, we want people to be available to us 24×7 (not that we would say it like that, of course).

We also live in an age where people are clamoring to work for companies like Google that have turned their corporate compounds into playgrounds, complete with massage services and pool halls, not to mention fun activities for the rest of the family. I mean, it’s vacation everyday there, right? Hmmm, I’m pretty sure Google still expects you to work. (“Hey, we’ll let you relax; just don’t go too far away or disconnect from us while you’re doing it. See, we’ll even let your kids come and hang out! They’ll forget your working because they’ll be having so much fun.”)

For sure we don’t like our companies telling us what to do, like to check in during vacation, and we despise it when the office calls us during our cruise (“How dare they?” We get so indignant), but there we are willingly doing it on our own anyway, sending all kinds of mixed signals.

“It’s better if I clear out my e-mail before I go back. Otherwise, it will take the whole first day in the office to do it.”

“It’s no big deal if I just sit it on this one conference call.”

“I’m not working; I’m just checking e-mail.”

Now, I know, there are the true renegades out there. They are adamant that they are not available during their vacation or family time. But have you ever noticed how defiantly they have to state their case? “I’m on vacation, and I will NOT be disturbed!” The reason is because they know that even though everyone back at the office is going, “Oh Judy is on a well-deserved vacation, and she does not want to be disturbed,” they also are just waiting for some type of “emergency” to crop up so they can do just that, disturb Judy. After all, they each took phone calls and answered e-mails when they were out. I mean, just who does Judy think she is, after all? Who can’t respond to one little text?

As employees, we are a hot mess.

We demand our vacations, our family time, and then we let guilt or our sense of obligation (I mean, you did “promise” to see this project or that one all the way through, right?) linger during that precious time. And companies know it. (Why else do you think so many are so willing to offer up lots of vacation time and buy us shiny new iPhones? “What? You’re willing to work from home? You’re dedicated to sleeping with your iPhone? You’re going to take your laptop on your European vacation? Sure! Take all the time off you need!”)

Believe me, I am no better. I’ve caved more times than I can count, and although I have had some nice vacations, I have still worked through just about all of them…not really reaping the full benefit of what the vacation could offer me. I’ve never really disconnected. And although I have cried and moaned about why people won’t leave me alone while I am away, there I am “checking in” here and there, afraid someone might need me. (Ah, maybe that is it! We need to be needed…)

So, no, I’m sorry, but achieving work-life balance is not likely for today’s or tomorrow’s young worker, especially a driven one, and neither is successfully disconnecting on vacation. It takes years of hard work and a thick skin to cultivate, and even then you’re still wondering whether it’s ever totally possible. I mean, there really is something to be said for clearing out all those e-mails before you go back to work. :-)