Beware the Quiet Vacation

One in eight employees has already planned a non-PTO trip this summer. 

The manager calling the Zoom meeting could sense something was off. Most of the workers on his screen looked stressed or tired. But a few were tanned, joking, and very relaxed. He wondered: Could they be on vacations that they hadn’t formally requested?

The answer might be yes. Even if the quiet-quitting trend didn’t end happily for many employees (post-pandemic, firms made many layoffs), some haven’t hesitated to go on “quiet vacations,” in which they take trips and show up virtually for meetings—without using any of their personal days. Their secret? Video-meeting backgrounds that shield their locations.

New data from Resume Builder indicates that one in ten employees has already taken a quiet vacation, while 13% are planning one this summer. Aside from potentially violating company policy, the tactic can create a headache for managers. Is that employee in Hawaii really working? “CEOs are unhappy about it,” says Deepali Vyas, global head of the FinTech, Payments and Crypto practice at Korn Ferry. “It gets messy fast when people are out of office but not taking paid time off."

Leaders are seeing some success from return-to-office policies, including a 2.9% jump in US productivity figures over the last year. But quiet vacationing is a hot topic: Vyas’ recent TikTok post on quiet vacationing garnered 1.5 million views. According to the survey, of those trying the practice, 43% have taken up to three days, and 15% have taken six or more days.

To be sure, some workers say companies are forcing the issue, since recent data shows firms have approved just half of recent PTO requests. What’s more, taking trips while still working regular hours isn’t a problem at companies with work-anywhere policies. “If it’s working remotely in a nice spot, and they’re meeting their objectives, no problem,” says Shanda Mints, vice president for RPO analytics and implementation at Korn Ferry. But critics say that on many quiet vacations, workers appear at meetings but otherwise do the minimum. The line in the sand, so to speak, is whether the employee’s behavior is forcing the employer to compromise. “If they’re taking an uncredited vacation and are not always available, that’s where the problems begin,” says HR expert Ron Porter, senior client partner at Korn Ferry. Still, he adds, “In my mind, it kind of defeats the purpose of taking a vacation” if workers aren’t getting a full break from the office.

To avoid conflict, Mints suggests that managers nail down expected work objectives, as well as how those objectives are measured; this will help clarify what is and isn’t allowed. “If you have no good way to measure, that’s where getting help on that comes in,” says Mints. Other experts also say to address the issue now, before vacation season begins in earnest, by articulating expectations—for instance, that employees need to apprise the team of their location, and that they need to take paid time off if they’re unavailable during work hours. Some loosening of the rules, such as a reducing of in-office day requirements, is typical during the summer. “As with any hot topic, managers should get out in front of it,” says Porter. 


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