Why employees are taking ‘quiet vacations’

Remote and hybrid work is here to stay, and proponents argue those working arrangements do not hurt employee productivity — but some abuse it.

A recent Resume Builder survey of office workers, with more than 1,000 responses, found one in eight plan on “quiet vacationing” this summer.

“You could be in some vacation place and get on a Zoom call and put a screen behind you that looks like you’re in the office or at home and you are make-believing that you are at home working,” said Resume Builder career coach Stacie Haller. “It is clearly not an entire PTO day because they are still working some hours. But it is fewer hours.”

While such deception is not acceptable, it stems from a larger, age-old problem: Employees are reluctant to take the paid time off they have coming to them.

Some employees take every last bit of paid time off they’ve earned, but many don’t. A Pew Research report found nearly half of workers who have paid time off typically take less time off than they’ve earned. A big reason is anxiety, and that is often the manager’s fault.

“I think one way, very passive-aggressively, that managers might do this is that they make it difficult if you take a vacation day. There is no plan in place for who will back you up or how your work will get done,” Haller said. “Clearly, everyone wants more flexibility. But they fear they will not be putting on a good front to their bosses if they take more time off than they think their bosses want them to take.”

Two in five workers worry about the impact of taking paid time off on job security, according to the Resume Builder survey, which also found 30% of those who’ve taken a vacation day without their employer’s permission did so because they believed taking a vacation day would make them look less hardworking.

More than 1 in 4 workers who admit to taking a quiet vacation, or time off without their company’s approval, say they did so because their time off request was not approved. The Pew Research report found 12% of employees surveyed say their manager or supervisor discourages them from taking time off.

“Unfortunately, if companies are not paying attention to this or giving enough PTO or encouraging their employees to take the time off that they deserve, that is going to be a problem at some point,” Haller said. “They are going to have turnover. Employees will end up looking somewhere else eventually.”

Time not taken is time lost. One-third of companies that provide paid time off for employees do not allow unused vacation time to roll over to the next year.

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Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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