Work advice: Unpacking the reasons for ‘quiet vacationing’

“Quiet vacationing” has joined “quiet quitting” and “quiet firing” as the latest (and least poetic) scourge of the modern workplace. Also known as the hush trip, workcation, hush-cation, or bleisure travel — you get the idea — quiet vacationing refers to workers taking time off, even traveling, without notifying their employers.

Taking advantage of work-from-anywhere technology, they are logging in from hotels, beaches and campgrounds, sometimes using virtual backgrounds and VPNs to cover their tracks.

Given the difficulty many employers already have trusting remote workers to be productive anywhere outside the office, you can bet they are not keen on the idea of their employees pretending to have their head in the game while their toes are in the sand.

But employers also have legitimate legal reasons for keeping tabs on their employees’ location when they’re on the clock.

“Evil HR Lady” Suzanne Lucas, writing in Inc. magazine, recently highlighted the many tax, employment, business-operation and security laws that focus on an employee’s location. Workers secretly performing their jobs in other states or countries can trigger compliance headaches for their employers, Lucas notes, giving the hypothetical of an employee seeking workers’ compensation after sustaining an injury while on unauthorized travel.

Furtive furloughs aren’t great for employees’ well-being, either. Whatever leisure time you enjoy will be polluted by the stress of constantly keeping one eye or ear out for urgent emails, texts or calls. And if a work emergency arises that requires your presence on-site, you’ll have to scuttle your plans anyway. Staying connected to work when we’re ostensibly resting is detrimental to our mental and physical health — more so when we layer on the stress of secrecy.

As with declines in birthrates, home purchases and demand for mined diamonds, the quiet-vacationing trend is being attributed primarily, though not exclusively, to millennial workers. But before launching into generational finger-pointing and stereotyping, it’s worth taking a look at why they might feel the need to take their PTO on the DL.

The U.S. Travel Association in a 2016 report proclaimed millennials to be a generation of “work martyrs,” entering the workforce around the time average U.S. vacation usage began declining and mobile technology began enabling round-the-clock attachment to jobs. Millennials didn’t invent over-employment or side gigs, but they cut their teeth on hustle culture and professional multi-tasking. The work-vacation boundaries most premillennial workers took for granted growing up have gone the way of defined-benefit pensions and good tomatoes.

Inadequate paid leave is another driving force. The United States continues to be the only nation among its industrialized economic peers that does not guarantee paid vacation, sick leave or holidays for all workers, leaving such benefits to the discretion of employers.

Workers with limited PTO — whether new to the workforce or stuck in lower-paying, low-benefit industries — generally want to keep as much paid leave banked as possible, especially if they may need it for unpredictable emergencies like illness or caretaking. If you can preserve those precious hours by packing your laptop alongside your flip-flops, why wouldn’t you?

But that doesn’t account for the 4 in 10 workers who, according to the Pew Research Center, still fail to use all the PTO they’re entitled to. The Post’s Andrew Van Dam, in a 2023 analysis, cited research indicating that “employees are less likely to use all their vacation days if they don’t expect to detach from work and truly relax, or if they worry that vacations will set them back financially.”

If you work in an environment where time off is granted grudgingly, with a heaping helping of side-eye, and you fear that stepping away means losing your place in line for promotions or becoming a target for future cost-cutting, discretion may seem the better part of vacationing.

If boundaries between your work and personal time are nonexistent anyway, and colleagues regularly contact you during days off with “just a quick question,” why should those fragments of work time be paid for out of your personal leave account? Especially if you might later be able to cash out unused leave in the event of a layoff or job change?

If you’re an employer concerned that your people are taking off-the-record R & R, your first call should be inside your house, to understand why they might feel the need to keep their time off a secret. Otherwise, if you figure what you don’t know won’t hurt you, don’t act hurt if what you don’t know about your workers’ whereabouts comes back to bite you.

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