Plugged in at the Beach

August 10, 2015
Some organizations are beginning to offer "working vacations" (is that an oxymoron?), called workcations, as a perk to employees, allowing them to log in remotely from vacation destinations but not have those days counted against their vacation/PTO time. This appears to be different than being on a scheduled vacation and periodically checking e-mails and/or being interrupted by work colleagues. Although many professionals today are tethered to their smartphones and their laptops while on vacation, continually "checking-in," a workcation is a more deliberate integration of vacation time with work.

With a workcation, by design, you are scheduling to work but from a vacation spot or resort destination (thereby not your standard telecommuting option!) A small but growing number of workers are asking their bosses for time away from the office that includes a few days working from an exotic location.

Overall, U.S. workers are taking less vacation than they did a decade ago. U.S. employees only take 51% of their allotted vacation days. Another study, commissioned by the U.S. Travel Association, and completed by Oxford Economics, reveals that 42% of employees don't use all their paid time off, even though vacation time has been shown to reduce stress and lead to better health, productivity and motivation. According to the analysis, in 2013, the average worker took 16 vacation days, down from 20.9 days in 2000.

With the workcation, employees often pay for lodging and travel, but may take conference calls or write project updates from a resort or rental home, spending off-hours sightseeing or being with family, without having the time counted against their vacation days. Here is a blog from someone who experienced first-hand a workcation while visiting at Walt Disney World. According to one of the articles I read, co-working companies, which provide shared workspaces for remote workers, have opened locations in vacation destinations such as Lake Tahoe and the Canary Islands with Wi-Fi for working vacationers.

Last year, I talked about unlimited vacation time as an employee benefit. In WorldatWork's Paid Time Off Programs and Practices Survey, only 1% of organizations reported offering such a benefit as part of their total rewards package. Unlimited leave programs remain extremely rare; in fact, many of these workers are taking the same -- or even less -- vacation time than when they had a fixed number of days each year. Some reasons include that workloads are so busy that many employees feel they can't afford to take the time off, or some employees may feel pressured not to take time off, especially if their colleagues are taking less time. I mention this because since most individuals don't take advantage of their time off anyway, maybe a so-called 'workcation" is the answer for some people and some organizations? Employees only use half of their eligible paid time off, and according to a Harris Interactive Poll, 61% of Americans work while they're on vacation.

If over half of folks today already work while on vacation, maybe this option is the wave of the future? Working vacations, of course, would have to fit with the company role and job responsibilities, along with an organizational culture that clearly supports a flexible work policy.

There may be a limited number of roles that lend themselves to this type of arrangement, but, even so, is it good or bad.......and for whom? Will this lead to greater productivity in the end, or simply burnout, if individuals never get real time off?

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