Mixing time off and work: Are ‘workcations’ the solution to burnout at work?

Mixing time off and work: Are ‘workcations’ the solution to burnout at work?

Grant is the well-being contributor to TechLife Sydney. You can follow his work on LinkedIn or by subscribing to his weekly newsletter, Sustain. 

In December when I was (blissfully) taking two weeks of vacation in Costa Rica completely disconnected from work, I came across an article with this headline.

Working Vacations Have Never Felt This Good
Resorts are pitching themselves as places for employees to mix leisure time and focused work. Plenty of workers – and companies – are embracing this new ‘paid time on’

In a talent marketplace where just about anything seems to go right now, the idea is that you could ship off to some wellness retreat to recover from working all the time. Your company might even pay for it. The only catch is, the time isn’t completely off – you’re still going to be asked to work.

The article mentions a woman who had just completed a big project. As thanks, her boss and company treated her to a nearly $5,000 wellness retreat where she mixed healthy eating classes and pilates with Zoom calls by the pool. Her boss is quoted, “When people are happier within themselves they’re more productive.”

Maybe I’m just a bit sinister. But this quote tells me, you were doing your job on that project, I know it wore you out, but I need you to keep working (and not quit).

Is there such thing as ‘workcation’

Many resorts have smartly pivoted to offer packages catering to many new remote and hybrid workers. One marketing itself where “you can recharge your batteries without sacrificing connectivity or productivity.” 🙄

My sinister self entering the chat again: I see this concept as being very similar to the myth of unlimited time off. It’s an amazingly flashy perk to get new talent in the door, but it feels impossibly hard to actually take advantage of.

From a UK-based CEO: “We wanted to make sure we were giving everyone the opportunity to recharge.” Wow, that’s such a nice employee-first way of thinking. She continues, “You can mix holiday and work time.” Ah, ok. The truth comes out.

I see this as another benefit that will get positive headlines. But it continues the frustrating trend of companies gaslighting employees (i.e. treating only the symptoms, not the cause of burnout).

Should companies pursue workcations?

I don’t know, actually. So I turned to one of my colleagues who did a similar travel/work program. When I asked her if it was restorative, like the CEO quoted thinks, it was a definitive no. You’re working. Duh. Easy answer.

She went with the mindset that she was simply working in a new location. Relaxation and exploration time were a bonus.

So where does this leave the workcation concept if it were to go more widespread? We’re at such a fragile place as it is when it comes to time off. For so many, PTO still means checking in or engaging with work. Not to mention, the deep inequalities that would surface with workcations.

Struggling with that? Here are the six steps I use to take time off disconnected, every time.

Since the true concept of time off has deteriorated so much in the last few decades, I worry (and know) this workcation concept would only further that momentum. It seems logical that implicit pressure would come onto employees that just had a ‘workcation’ to not take a vacation.

My colleague again: It would be best to treat the workcation concept as a professional development opportunity, rather than a wellness perk. If you’re looking for relaxation take PTO, she said.

A tricked-out wifi-enabled cabin overlooking the ocean doesn’t enable rest. It might be nice. It might feel better than your current day-to-day for a period of time. But it doesn’t carry the true restorative powers of time off from work 100% disconnected.

As the concept of PTO, as it was originally intended, is eroded we must remember how essential it is. Time off is always something worth fighting for.