It’s long been known that U.S. workers take fewer vacation days than their international counterparts. Fewer vacation days are typically offered by U.S. employers, and of those offered, many go unused. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is the U.S. work culture in which employees often fear falling behind or being penalized if they take time away.
Bearing this in mind, some employers are beginning to promote the idea of a workcation. As the name implies, a workcation is simply a vacation when some work is still completed. This lessens the impact of work piling up while away and, thus, may be a way to give employees a bit of a break while addressing some of the fear that currently holds them back. (Note: There are other types of workcations, which we will get to in a moment.)
Should You Encourage Employees to Work on Vacation?
Employers surely realize there are definite pros and cons to taking this approach. Here are a few possible benefits:
- Encouraging workcations may mean employees can get away more often, even though it’s not a complete absence from work. This could reduce burnout, particularly for employees who would not otherwise take time away.
- Employees may be more productive after a break, even if that break is less than 100% time off.
- Employees are often working during vacation anyway—and may not be getting paid for it—which could cause resentment. By incorporating the idea into a more normal practice and ensuring it’s done fairly, it can be an improvement.
However, clearly, there are drawbacks, as well. Here are a couple:
- Encouraging work may be seen as implying that a “real” vacation (i.e., when no work is completed) is not allowed, which could negatively impact morale. It may appear as though work is expected on all vacations.
- It may be difficult to track hours for hourly employees, making it more difficult to ensure employees are paid fairly for all the hours they actually worked.
Critics also point out that if work is expected while on vacation, it should also be expected that employees will be able to perform routine personal tasks while at work to preserve a sense of fairness and work/life balance. Employers could implement a similar idea by having complete flexibility in working hours for roles that would support it. This idea has the same underpinnings—allowing employees the time they need to do things outside of work while still expecting work to get finished. It’s obviously not quite the same, but it can be an aspect of the idea.
Other Workcation Options
We noted above that there are multiple ways to implement a workcation. Here are some examples:
- Regular employee vacation time in which some work is performed remotely at the employee’s discretion or as needed. (This is what we’ve discussed above.)
- Team vacations where the employer takes a more active role and provides some or all of the vacation aspect, such as paying for the flights and hotel but adding in a conference or teambuilding activities. This is typically offered in addition to regular vacation days.
- Employer-paid vacations, when it’s a true vacation, but the employee is still available if needed.
- Employer-paid vacations when work is the primary goal, with fewer distractions, and some leisure activities are built in or when the employer pays for a change of scenery but full-time work is still expected. This is often utilized for specific project completion to allow complete focus. (This, of course, would not utilize paid time off (PTO)!)
- Allowing employees to extend work-required travel to include vacation time and, when applicable, to bring partners or family/friends along.
Workcations: HR’s Role
This is a topic in which HR managers can take an influential role by discussing the idea with others in the organization. Finding ways to ensure that hours are properly tracked and paid while still encouraging employees to get some time away may be a happy medium to allow employees to take much-needed vacations they’re now skipping.
For any effective vacation policy to work as intended, however, the culture must support it. Having ways to ensure that work is managed while an employee is away is critical.