Summer Vacations, Abbreviated

With the economy and layoffs on their minds, six in ten workers plan to take shorter vacations this year. Is that counterproductive?

It was a summer on steroids in 2021. With a strong economy, one of the healthiest job markets in decades, and a lull in the COVID-19 pandemic, professionals happily took long, much-needed vacations. This year? Don’t be surprised to find a slightly different scenario.

According to a new Korn Ferry survey, an overwhelming 63% of professionals say they will be taking a shorter vacation in 2022. Twice as many will be checking in with work while they’re away. Experts say it’s only the latest example of how quickly the employer-employee dynamic has shifted—the result of a weakened economy and the fading out of the Great Resignation. “There’s less tolerance for not being connected this year,” says Cheryl D’Cruz-Young, a senior client partner and founding member of Korn Ferry’s ESG Center of Expertise. “You have to demonstrate that you are committed.”

All of this is a far cry from 2021, when some companies were so worried about filling empty jobs that they shut down parts of their businesses for a week at a time to accommodate workers on vacation. Now, experts say, it’s workers who are fretting, worrying that they might miss something critical to their professional lives if they fall out of touch. In the survey, 58% of workers told Korn Ferry that the prospect of being away from work on vacation stresses them out more than in years past. Other contributors to their anxiety include inflation, the war in central Europe, the big pullback in stock values, and the growing chorus of analysts warning of a recession.

The trend troubles some human-resources and leadership pros; they say vacations are essential for future productivity and long-term engagement. An employee who takes a shorter break might be ignoring their own need for self-care, says Kevin Cashman, global co-leader of Korn Ferry’s CEO and Enterprise Leader Development practice. “The question of more or less vacation this year is really a question of whether you are more motivated by fear or service,” he says.

This stress could be particularly acute for workers who switched organizations during the Great Resignation. These people were full of confidence a few months ago. But now they may fear being seen as insufficiently engaged. They may worry about being victims of a last-in, first-out policy if their new organization cuts head count, says Brian Bloom, Korn Ferry’s vice president of global benefits. Already there are signs that the economy is softening across industries. Some organizations, particularly in tech, have begun laying people off.

So it’s hardly surprising that employees will be touching base with work much more often this summer. According to the Korn Ferry survey, 37% say they’ll check in with work multiple times a day during vacation—almost double the 19% who said the same thing in 2021. And fewer people will take a total break from work: only 8% said they wouldn’t contact their offices at all, down from 13% in 2021.

But the fear isn’t keeping workers from taking short breaks. Packed planes, despite hefty airfares, demonstrate how much people want a change of scenery. “Leisure-travel data shows a desire and comfort to get out there again,” says Mark Royal, senior director of Korn Ferry Advisory. Interestingly, anxiety about long vacations isn’t universal across countries. D’Cruz-Young worked with some clients in the Middle East who were anxious to wrap up some business in June. “They said, ‘Let’s get done now,’” she recalls. “‘Otherwise, school will be out and we can’t follow up until September.’”