Workcations: The New Norm?

Nearly 75% of people in a new poll say instead of losing vacation days, they’re willing to work while they’re away. Is that part of the trade-off of remote work?

Would you rather go back to the office five days a week or put aside a few hours, or even a day or two, for work while on vacation?

It isn’t actually a theoretical question but instead part of many people’s new work reality. With many organizations going fully remote or implementing hybrid remote/office work models, the trade-off for being able to work whenever and wherever you want is that apparently it sometimes includes while on vacation. And surprisingly, most people are willing to make that trade. According to a new survey, 74% of people say they are open to the idea of a “workcation,” going on vacation so as not to lose unused days but working while at their destination.

To be sure, no firms have implemented an official policy, and many human resources officials say both health and productivity can suffer without real vacations. But juxtaposed against the freedom to run errands, exercise, or take the dogs for a walk that being untethered to an office provides, workcations appear to be a new reality that may stick. “Part of the nature of a client-focused business is that things pop up that need attention,” says Deepali Vyas, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and the firm’s global cohead of fintech, who on a recent spring break trip committed to taking at least one client call per day.

For many businesses, another part of the equation is that they don’t have enough people or resources to handle the workload coming out of the pandemic. Last year, for instance, remote work added an hour to the average workday. Moreover, on average, people leave about five vacation days per year on the table, but that number undoubtedly increased last year as people skipped vacations because of the pandemic. Those who did take vacation were probably checking in with the office anyway—Korn Ferry data shows that more than a quarter of people check in with the office at least once a day while on vacation, and nearly half check in multiple times a day.

The fear among experts is that with people already working more and longer, workcations will further contribute to an increase in burnout and stress that has only ballooned during the pandemic. “People need time away that really allows them to unplug and be away,” says Brian Bloom, vice president of global benefits at Korn Ferry and cochairman of the firm’s COVID-19 task force. Bloom says that making people who have to be in the office all the time work on vacation is unfair and could certainly be viewed as an encroachment on their mental health.

For those people who can work remotely, however, Bloom says workcations are all about trust and flexibility between employee and employer. He says people are more willing to sacrifice some vacation time if they feel they have the freedom and flexibility to work how and when they want. That may be why the vacation rental company Airbnb saw an increase in rentals lasting four weeks or more and a threefold increase in mentions of remote work last year. As Bloom sees it, that data suggests a move from work-life balance to work-life integration, with perhaps one week of renting devoted to work, another to solely vacation, and the remaining two to a hybrid scenario.

Or, as Bloom says of the rising acceptance of workcations, “it’s a trade-off between sharing some personal time with work in return for being able to focus on what’s important to ourselves.”