Employer Branding

Can “Working Vacations” Really Work?

The American workforce has long operated under an unofficial motto: Work hard, play hard. But let’s be honest, the work half of that equation always seems to have the upper hand.

Compared to workers in other countries, American employees receive a paltry number of paid vacation days each year. For example, employees in Germany and Canada average 29 days of PTO per year, while workers in the United Kingdom, Japan and China average 28, 18 and 16 days, respectively. Meanwhile, the average U.S. employee gets just 10 days of PTO every year.

This is likely tied to the fact that, unlike most other industrialized countries, the U.S. has no federally-mandated minimum for vacation days, leaving employers to decide how many days they will allow employees to take off.

However, this isn’t just a problem of law, it’s also a problem of culture. In 2017, only 53 percent of employees emptied their PTO bank, meaning that 47 percent shunned part or all of their vacation time to stay on the job. The reasons people cited for doing this included feeling overwhelmed with deadlines, not wanting to fall behind on assignments, feeling pressured by management not to take time off, and feeling they couldn’t financially afford to travel.

In short, American workers feel stressed and overworked, and they continue to feel this way despite conclusive research showing that vacations improve all aspects of health and boost productivity in the workplace.

Will Work For Vacation

But what if U.S. employees could truly begin to embody the mantra of working hard and playing hard? In recent years, “workcations” and “bleisure travel” have been rising in popularity, both with employers and employees. This concept blends work with travel, adventure, and flexible schedules, and it can be embraced as an occasional job perk or as a totally immersive lifestyle.

On one end of the workcation spectrum, there are companies that offer flexible and unlimited PTO, meaning employees can work remotely as much as they want so long as they continue to meet all of their job responsibilities. This could mean jet-setting as much as you like, as long as you’re willing to phone in for important conference calls and tend to any ongoing assignments while you’re away.

Meanwhile, team building workcations are still very much a thing in the corporate world. But employers are getting more creative in their approach. Instead of just heading to the local Hilton for a weekend of seminars and awkwardly performed trust falls, many companies now encourage employee bonding by sending workers to faraway lands to enjoy theatre and museum tours, safaris and extreme sports.

Some companies also try to help teams meet their performance goals by sending them to luxury resorts when an important deadline is looming. That way, they can problem solve while getting a hot stone massage.

Workcation: All I Ever Wanted?

This is not to suggest that everyone thinks workcations are a good idea. One company that pays its employees to go on vacation, Denver-based tech company FullContact, insists that they don’t do any work while away, and opponents of the “bleisure travel” concept have called it the “saddest sign of our times.” But is it really?

The idea of “work/life balance” has been around since the 1970s, and its very existence suggests that there has always been encroachment between the professional and personal spheres of a person’s life. This encroachment is most often framed as a critical imbalance, something that must be corrected before someone can truly enjoy his or her life. For instance, how many movies feature “workaholic” lead characters who are accused of neglecting their families?

While there is nothing wrong with hopping on a plane and completely disconnecting from work and responsibilities, in reality, 66 percent of Americans regularly work during their vacations. Maybe the answer isn’t to staunchly defend the lines between work and play, but to blend them in ways that allow both to flourish.

This could mean creating workplace cultures where taking care of the personal responsibilities of an employee’s life, such as attending a child’s soccer game or taking a mental health day, are encouraged, facilitated and celebrated. This could, in turn, foster a culture where employees take vacations and crack open their laptops without feeling resentment or opening themselves up to accusations of familial neglect.

This infographic about working vacations explains how some modern companies are rethinking work/life balance:

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