Carla, who works for a Spanish market-research agency, always used to take her full annual paid time off allowance and enjoyed her extensive business travel.
But after being furloughed from work during the first half of the Covid-19 lockdowns in Spain and working from home ever since her return to the company, she hasn’t had any meaningful time off, which has had an impact on her mood and her work.
“I used to love traveling, and when I did fieldwork overseas, I’d always add on a few extra days before the flight back, if I went somewhere new, said Carla, who requested that her real name not be published. “Obviously, like the rest of the world, I haven’t been anywhere for so long and I’d love to go and see my family in the Netherlands.”
“I asked my manager if I could go and work from there for a few weeks this summer, because with quarantines and everything, it’s only worth going for a longer stay,” she added. “But they’re still thinking about it and I am getting distinct vibes that this is regarded as a bad time to ask.”
Having navigated through the worst of the crisis, Carla feels her manager has surely learned to trust her and her team to get their work done, regardless of location. That has her wondering why taking a “workation” and extending that flexibility would be such a big deal.
Perhaps her manager would rather she took a proper vacation instead.
A move to impose time off
In many ways, the lines between work life and home life have become irretrievably blurred since the coronavirus outbreak forced most workers worldwide to abandon offices and telecommute.
One reason remote employees find it difficult to shut off work at the end of the day in fear that they may be seen as unproductive by their managers.
Those concerns have dissuaded many remote workers from taking a proper break of any kind.
To be sure, some employers, recognizing that remote staff faced burnout and associated stress issues, have insisted that employees unplug at organizational level.
For example, dating app Bumble recently followed LinkedIn and others in closing operations for a full week to give everyone extra time off, ensuring they could not even access company systems. Software giant SAP has implemented company-wide mental-health days.
For some companies, “workations” are no substitutes for proper time off. In addition, allowing them may create unsustainable precedents and even treatment that may be considered unlawful in some countries.
A July 2021 editorial in the National Law Review in the U.S. suggested that existing employment law generally permits a great deal of flexibility here, if employers choose to exercise it, but that it should be done consciously and intentionally to ensure the needs of colleagues are fairly met within state and federal labor laws and in a non-discriminatory way.
For example, companies should ask themselves: Is everyone eligible for this benefit equally? What about anyone who was out sick, or on paid time off during a company mental health day? What about those working on a part-time basis or who are on other kinds of flexible contracts?
‘It was transformational’
To be sure, smaller businesses can be more flexible and pragmatic when it comes to time off and potential “workations.”
Paola Dyboski-Bryant, CEO of British toy maker Dr. Zigs, recently threw her usual annual leave planning out of the window to enable her head of production to take a full four-week break, along with their partner (also a manager in the business), to visit family.
This required an interim hire as well as the whole team stepping up to cover the gap. Still, Dyboski-Bryant says she’s convinced that supporting the request was the right thing to do.
“It wasn’t all a smooth ride — there were hiccups,” she admitted, “But her parents hadn’t met their new baby born in lockdown and they needed a proper family break It was definitely worthwhile though, because “they came back so energized, so ready to engage with the business and where we were going next. It was transformational.”
Dyboski-Bryant says she is 100 percent open to so-called workations going forward, and for her the only constraint is the ability to get the work done. That’s something her team embraced during the Covid lockdowns, given that many employees were involved in assembly of physical products.
“For businesses to survive today, they need to be creative and adaptable, so we always regard everything as dynamic, being open to new ways of working,” she said.
Carla, the employee at the Spanish market-research agency, says she’s working on presenting her employer with a proper plan to support her request, which includes working a portion of her time overseas, while ensuring she gets adequate opportunity to take a complete break from work as well.
She notes that she’s mapping out upcoming project demands against the calendar and being transparent and accountable for company time, all of which can create a model process that the company could reuse with other team members in the future.
If they can meet her request, they’ll retain a grateful and loyal team member who will maintain productivity while becoming refreshed and reinvigorated, she says.
Otherwise, Carla warns they risk losing her to a more flexible competitor or she may defer to a “don’t ask don’t tell” approach with the idea being her employer wouldn’t know where she was working from anyway.
This could lead to contractual and compliance complications, which a proactive and transparent conversation could preempt.