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Quiet vacationing explained: Everything you need to know

A new quiet trend has emerged, but this time it involves taking time off and traveling. Quiet vacationing combines working remotely and traveling -- without telling anyone.

Everyone knows the feeling of getting a PTO request denied, or not bothering to request time off at all, knowing it won't get approved. Wouldn't it be nice to take a relaxing vacation anyway, without anyone knowing?

Some remote and hybrid workers are doing just that. Quiet vacationing is the latest quiet workplace trend causing headaches for employers. But it's not new. Quiet vacationing is similar to workplace trends, such as workcations, hush trips and other types of bleisure travel. In this work-from-anywhere age, it's easy for employees to vacation and complete all necessary tasks.

According to a recent survey from ResumeBuilder, one in eight workers plans on quiet vacationing this summer. The trend picks up in the summer because work often slows. The week of July 4 in the U.S. is a popular time for a quiet vacation, with about half of workers taking one, according to a report from The Harris Poll.

So, what exactly is quiet vacationing, and how can employers find a solution that keeps employees and managers happy?

What is quiet vacationing?

Quiet vacationing is the practice of employees going on vacation without letting anyone, including direct managers, know about it.

An employee who's quiet vacationing won't request PTO but allows their manager to believe work is continuing as usual. Instead, workers take a secret, quiet vacation and take steps to keep up the appearance of working, which can include the following:

  • Changing their virtual background during meetings to look like they're somewhere else.
  • Simulating keyboard activity to make it look like they're working.
  • Asking for help from coworkers to continue to complete daily tasks and projects.

Although quiet vacationing is a relatively new trend, the practice is not. Since the emergence of remote work and the idea that employees can work from anywhere, similar trends -- such as hush trips -- are more common and normalized among workers. Workers no longer need the office to access work, which opens opportunities. Additionally, the rise of artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies makes it easier than ever for workers to take unannounced time off while keeping managers off their scent.

Quiet vacationing is an umbrella term for working while on vacation. It includes employees who are simply working from another location, but it can also describe a worker who's more in vacation mode than work mode, isn't as worried about completing tasks or sustaining productivity and merely aims to do the bare minimum and maintain appearances.

According to ResumeBuilder, 43% of quiet vacationers said they took two to three unapproved days off, 24% said they took four to five, and 15% of workers reported taking six or more days.

Why are workers quiet vacationing?

There are several reasons workers choose quiet vacationing. According to ResumeBuilder, those employees who do share the following:

  • Are too anxious to ask for time off.
  • Don't want to use their PTO.
  • Feel taking time off makes them look less hardworking.
  • Feel they're more likely to be laid off if they take vacation days.

For many, the decision to take a quiet vacation relates to PTO. While some quiet vacationers don't want to use their PTO, others are worried about their request being denied, and some subsequently decide to take a quiet vacation after a rejected PTO request.

However, the fear extends to requests for time off in the first place and how the request itself looks to managers or peers. These job security concerns lead some workers to choose a quiet vacation or other sneaky workplace practices.

One in three quiet vacationers said they didn't have any PTO to use, according to ResumeBuilder. But even when employees have plenty of PTO to use, they often feel too anxious to ask for time off, despite feeling overworked and burned out.

For many workers, these feelings are perpetuated by a culture of fear and lack of trust in leadership, making it easier for them to justify hiding their quiet vacation.

Employees most likely to take quiet vacations

Younger workers are more likely to take quiet vacations than older workers. According to another report by The Harris Poll, 37% of millennials said they've taken time off without fully communicating it to managers, higher than the overall average of 28%.

Workers who are more likely to take quiet vacations, such as Gen Z and millennials, added that they do not use the maximum amount of PTO allowed by their employer, as reported by 89% of Gen Z workers and 83% of millennials. Even though the PTO is available, this suggests workers are discouraged, either directly or indirectly, from taking time off.

Employees who feel overworked or as though they're expected to remain "plugged in" during vacations are more likely to take quiet vacations. The practice, along with other quiet trends, is popular among workers who are less engaged and less satisfied with their jobs, indicating a larger issue with a particular corporate culture.

How company culture affects employee vacation time

Quiet vacationing directly damages trust between employees and managers. It likely signals a lack of trust, to begin with.

Though some companies provide ample time off, or even unlimited PTO, a perpetually plugged-in culture makes taking time off feel futile since employees must still get their work done.

Six in 10 workers in The Harris Poll's survey said they struggle to fully disconnect during their time off, and 56% admitted to taking work-related calls or meetings during their time off. Plus, if an employee's initial workload is too heavy, that employee might fear falling too far behind or feeling guilty that colleagues will have extra work, stopping any thought of asking for time off. According to the poll, three in four American workers said that they want their workplace culture to emphasize the value of taking regular breaks.

Here's how to create a culture that prioritizes work-life balance and helps employees feel comfortable enough to inform their manager and ask properly for time off when it's needed:

  • Encourage managers to lead by example by taking time off regularly and unplugging during that time.
  • Provide development resources to managers to help prioritize and practice transparency and communication among teams.
  • Consider company-wide shutdowns during peak vacation times to help normalize time off and eliminate the need to remain plugged in to work during time off.

Learn more about signs of a toxic work culture.

Alison Roller is a freelance writer with experience in tech, HR and marketing.

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