The pros and cons of workcations

In a recent post, we discussed the pros and cons of an ongoing hybrid work model. As hybrid and remote work arrangements become more prevalent on an ongoing basis – and travel opens up – workcations are also gaining momentum among employers.

While they take varying forms, a workcation is a ‘vacation’ that allows employees to work remotely while they’re away travelling, visiting, and/or enjoying some leisure time. Some employers, for example, allow employees to take an extra bonus week immediately following their week of actual vacation so long as they work at least 50% of the time during one of the weeks. Other employers provide unlimited vacation time, but expect that employees stay connected and check in regularly.

These practices lead us to question whether workcations are really vacations, or simply work away from work.

The pros of workcations

On the positive side, workcations can be a benefit in the following ways:  

  • Due to workload or employee preference/nature, workcations may be the only way employees can/will take time for travel
  • Workcations can minimize or prevent the significant workload before and after vacation (i.e., putting in an extra week of work in order to take a week off)
  • Employees don’t come back to hundreds of emails and spend their final vacation days fretting about it
  • So long as employees plan to take a fully disconnected vacation at some point, they can save their real vacation time for that
  • Workcations can inspire creativity and productivity (for some types of work, a change of scenery is welcome and useful)

The cons of workcations

While workcations can be a benefit to both employers and employees, they don’t always achieve what they’re meant to. Some of the challenges associated with workcations include:

  • Not being able to fully unplug, disconnect, or relax
  • Not returning to work refreshed and rested
  • Inability to stop thinking about difficult or stressful situations while attempting to enjoy the vacation side of a workcation
  • Inability to find strong Wi-Fi and having to work in less than optimal conditions  
  • Not being able to give 100% to either work or leisure
  • Slower response and completion times, impacting efficiency and productivity
  • Negative health impacts

If your employees aren’t taking the time to rest and refresh, and are instead getting increasingly burned out, this not only impacts their health, but overall productivity as well. In the long run, this also hurts your business.

Statistics on and health impacts of not taking vacation

Whether employees don’t take enough vacation or take workcations instead of vacations, there’s the potential for several negative health impacts.

Expedia’s recent Vacation Depreciation study showed that Canadians are taking less vacation time overall. Even on regular vacations, many employees do some sort of work and/or stay connected while away. The study also found that 80% of employees who took one or more workcations in the past year didn’t consider it a real vacation and 71% felt “more burned out than ever”. Accordingly, a 2021 Robert Half study found that:

  • 43% feel more burned out at work compared to a year prior (up 33% from a 2020 poll), with 42% citing a heavier workload as the reason
  • 32% feel they can’t fully disconnect while on vacation and 20% forfeited vacation time in 2020
  • 57% want a fully disconnected vacation, 32% prefer a staycation, and 11% would go for a workcation

As we discussed in our 2021 post about disconnecting from work, not unplugging can lead to burn out, which can have a magnitude of health impacts. Forbes found that working 55+/hours per week is associated with 35% higher risk of stroke and 17% higher risk of heart disease (compared to a 35 – 40-hour work week).

Not only are employees working on vacation and not taking their full allotment, in Expedia’s survey, 36% said they used time off to work a side gig or to manage family care responsibilities. Not to mention, nearly 40% feel guilty asking others to cover for them when they’re away and 33% feel guilty simply taking the time off.

While some employers offer unlimited PTO (paid time off), in reality, in many organizations, there are several strings attached, and it can present challenges for coverage. Further, employees who have this benefit actually take less time off and when they do take time away, they often feel the need to work during it. We’re aware of a few employers who advertise unlimited PTO but require their employees to stay connected during that time. So, in fact, they’re getting less full vacation time than the minimums required by the Employment Standards Act.

How can employers promote and encourage vacation-taking?

The culture, policies, and practices of an organization, and how employers and managers uphold and model them are critical to influencing employees to take time off (or not). A Project: Time Off survey found that 80% of respondents would be more inclined to take time off if they felt their managers supported them to do so.

Some of the ways organizations are encouraging employees to take time off include:

  • Providing additional long weekends throughout the year – one of our clients gives their team 7 additional Fridays off, each one coinciding with one of their 7 values; another gives every Friday afternoon off (moving them closer to a 4-day workweek)
  • Vacation purchase plans – KPMG allows employees to buy full weeks of vacation (over and above their usual time) through payroll deduction. This is more of a benefit to employees than taking extra unpaid time, as they can spread deductions over the year
  • Closing the entire office/operations for a week during the summer and a week during the winter holidays, and/or as business permits
  • Vacation bonuses – PWC gives employees $250 each time they take a full week of vacation, up to four times a year
  • Giving everyone at all levels the same amount of vacation from day one

Other measures you can take include practicing what you preach, supporting employee plans and helping with coverage while they’re away, and even temporarily blocking access to email and other communication channels. Everyone needs to take time off and employers must encourage and support it, rather than shame it. Continuously working more and not taking breaks are not things to celebrate and model.

We encourage you to keep these factors in mind if you’re considering workcations as an option for your organization. While they can certainly be a benefit to both employer and employee, they’re ideally balanced out with genuine opportunities to unplug. We also recommend that you make the pros and cons transparent.

Let Jouta’s HR Consultants help define the time off practices that align with your culture, support your people, and benefit your business!