Employers advised to discourage staff from taking workcations

With summer in full swing, many employees are using some vacation time to take advantage of the nice weather and get a break from the daily grind. But for some people, that also means packing their laptop along with their swimsuits and beach towels. While a working vacation — sometimes dubbed a workcation — may provide some satisfaction in the short term, experts say the long-term effects can be negative for both employers and employees.

“They key is effectiveness,” says Lara Dodo, regional manager with Accountemps, a staffing company for accounting and finance professionals. “History shows that sustained high productivity is not possibly when people are burnt out.”

Dodo notes time away from the office allows employees to recharge and clear their mind and can lead to higher productivity when they return.

Fully disconnecting from work isn’t always easy, however. An Accountemps survey of Canadian employees released in May found 42 per cent of men and 30 per cent of women check in with their office while on vacation. And when it comes to chief executive officers, those numbers increase to 43 per cent overall.

Read: 46% of Canadian millennials not taking full vacation provision

The reasons employees check in or do work on their vacation vary. Some people don’t want colleagues to carry their workload while they’re away (36 per cent gave that as a reason in the survey), while others worry about the amount of work that will be waiting when they return (38 per cent). And of course, “there is good, old fashioned guilt,” says Dodo. “They don’t see their superiors or colleagues taking vacation, so they feel guilty for doing so.”

So what can employers do? Both Dodo and Dave Weisbeck, chief strategy officer with workforce consultancy Visier Inc., say it’s best to lead by example, as statistics show doing so has a true influence on employees.

“Lead from the top down and set expectations,” says Weisbeck. If people have to be available while on vacation, he suggests they set clear parameters and boundaries. For example, they can let colleagues know they’ll be online and answering calls for only an hour every day or share their schedule.

Read: KPMG seeks workplace flexibility through vacation purchase plan

Ideally, though, clearing the slate and leaving specific instructions on whom to contact during an absence is the best thing to do.

“We see it at the management level that people aren’t taking time off,” says Dodo. The Accountemps survey also shows 43 per cent of professionals aged 18 to 34 plan to take more vacation this summer, compared to 21 per cent of those aged 35 to 54 and 24 per cent of those 55 and older.

Both Dodo and Weisbeck note that completely shutting down the office during the year can be beneficial as it gives employees a guilt-free time to disconnect. Manufacturing companies often do that at different times during the year. For other industries, the time between Christmas and the new year is ideal since there are only a few days between the statutory holidays.

Read: Canadians want more work-life balance: survey

Dodo and Weisbeck also advise companies to have clear communication around vacation and work schedules. As more employers move towards flexible work environments that don’t require employees to be within four walls every day, lines can start to blur.

“Having a flexible schedule can sometimes be interpreted by employees that they have to be reachable 24/7,” says Dodo.

While flexible time has helped balance the work-life scale, people still need complete down time. “We need a detachment from work,” says Weisbeck. “Our batteries don’t get a full charge if we aren’t truly away.”