Vacations sure aren’t what they used to be. Wireless technology compels us to plug in from anywhere in the world, at any time of day, insidiously eroding the division between business and leisure time to the point that our Out-of-Office notifications are essentially as useless as trying to fight a wildfire with a watering can.
Some 66% of the American labor force spends at least part of their vacation time working. When this statistic is considered alongside the fact that U.S. companies offer, on average, the least generous vacation policies in the industrialized world, it’s clear that American working culture has a complicated relationship with the concept of time-off.
The Work/Life Balance Conundrum
Even companies that really want to promote a healthy work/life balance and outlook on vacation time have their work cut out for them. Close to half of Americans don’t even use up all of the vacation days afforded to them, suggesting that the problem is larger than whatever good offering more time-off could do.
Workers cite a laundry list of reasons why their much-needed vacations get routinely cut short, indefinitely postponed, or taken over by office work: too many deadlines, fear of the backlog they’ll return to, and worrying how time-off will reflect on their commitment to the job.
In short: workers don’t feel that vacations are good for their careers.
And yet, studies have shown time and time again that vacations are crucial for employee health, happiness, and productivity, and that employees return from vacation more motivated and energized than when they left.
But if a change is going to happen such that both employees and employers are able to reap the benefits of vacation time, that change needs to start with company culture.
Workcation, All I Ever Wanted
Keeping your personal life and professional life separate from one another is typically considered wise. But perhaps it’s time to rethink this strict division, especially when it comes to vacations.
The same technology that is often blamed for ruining our ability to leave work at the office has given rise to the phenomenon of “workcations.” Whether as a nomadic, laptop-wielding lifestyle or as an employer-sponsored perk of the job, this oxymoronic portmanteau is used to describe traveling without completely checking out of the office.
Workcations feature in some form or another in the policies of a growing number of companies. For some employers, this comes in the form of flexible, unlimited PTO: employees are free to be out-of-office as often as they choose, so long as they are performing well and meeting deadlines. In this scenario, an employee may take off for two weeks instead of one, but still generate a few reports and join an important conference call while on the road.
A more radical form of the workcations involves giving employees a stipend to travel wherever they like for a week or two, as long as they keep up with their work while they’re away.
Other companies make a point to use travel to foster teamwork. Whether by organizing annual company camping trips, sponsoring destination team-building retreats, or simply flying their employees to a beautiful location where they can catch some sun while they work intensively on an upcoming deadline, some employers are using travel as a way to refresh their employees’ motivation.
Workcation Doesn’t have to be an Oxymoron
Working vacations are, understandably, not a fit for every company or every employee. Many people need strictly enforced work/life boundaries in order to unplug and de-stress. These are the sort that justifiably won’t even entertain the thought of letting work creep into their precious vacation time in any capacity.
But for many others, maintaining rigid boundaries between work and play isn’t realistic. Perhaps the key to solving America’s complicated relationship with time-off is workplace policy that is open to our personal and professional lives overlapping from time to time.
Making workcations work requires creating a company culture in which taking mental health days or leaving early to catch your child’s dance recital are encouraged, even celebrated. In turn, this could create the kind of workplace culture in which employees don’t feel resentful about cracking open their laptop on the beach.
Here is how some companies are trying to foster office cultures conducive to working vacations: