"I don't work weekends," BP's CEO Tony Hayward once said publicly. "And I take all my holidays."

Hayward's dedication to leisure time drew sharp criticism and dominated Sunday morning talk shows after the controversial oil executive was spotted yachting over the weekend.

Outrageous and inappropriate – that seemed to be the prevailing sentiment of those who took issue with Hayward's participation in a regatta off the Isle of Wight while one of the most costly environmental catastrophes in history continues to play out in the Gulf of Mexico. But if Hayward is to be of any use to a world demanding more action, might a little rest and relaxation be just what he needed most?

"Everybody needs a little time off to recharge," said John Curry, a BP spokesman, declining any further comment.

Lauren Leader-Chivee, senior vice president at the Center for Work-Life Policy, a nonprofit think tank based in New York, concurred.

"The physical and mental toll of a relentless work schedule is something many high-level executives tend not to appreciate," she said. "We're starting to see severe fallout. An executive who is overstressed and not getting enough time off is less productive, and not in the best position to make the right decisions."

"His break was well deserved but not well handled," said veteran public relations executive Howard Rubenstein. "Instead of trying to hide his face he should have simply announced ahead of his excursion that he was taking 12 hours to recharge."

Oil executives aren't the only ones chastised for recreating during a crisis that took a mental toll on others whose livelihoods were upended. Former Bear Stearns CEO Jimmy Cayne will be always be remembered for playing bridge during the days leading up to the firm's meltdown in 2008.

Meanwhile, President Obama's decision to play golf and take in a baseball game over the last few days drew fire from GOP leaders. In a statement, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said: "While it is fitting and appropriate to look at the yachting activities of the BP CEO with incredulity, it is equally incredible that President Obama finds himself on yet another golf course as oil continues to spew into the Gulf."

Sometimes, nonstop work, dangerous as it may seem, is simply required. During the height of the financial crisis in 2008, for example, then treasury secretary Hank Paulson worked 18-plus hour days, seven days a week, between late August and mid-October, according to his book "On the Brink."

The Center for Work-Life's president, Sylvia Hewlett, just published a research paper on the hazards of extreme jobs, defined as 60 or more hours a week. Many of those jobs are unpredictable and fast-paced, and also require executives to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Among those executives who fit this description, the average work week was 73 hours.

"We encourage executives to take at least one week's vacation a year," Leader-Chivee said. "It's important to completely disconnect."

Completely disconnected, though, is how many viewed Hayward's decision to go boating. If things keep getting worse it's a stress-free bet that he'll have plenty of free time on his hands.