Quiet Vacationing. What is it?

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The digital age has given workers greater freedom around where and when they work. This has paved the wave for flexible working, driven by a greater desire and different options around work-life balance. 

Quiet Vacationing

This digital working revolution has enabled the emergence of a worrying new trend called quiet vacationing, which is when employees take time off stealthily without reporting these days to the company. There seem to be several variations of the quiet vacation as covered in a recent US News Today article.

For some, quiet vacationing involves going on a vacation and travelling during the workday without recording paid time or vacation. For others, it involves giving their manager the impression that they are working by regularly moving their computer mouse to ensure their online status registers as active and working. Other quiet vacationing tactics include scheduling emails or instant messages at strategic times so the employee appears to be working. 

There are reputable websites showing staff how to quiet vacation, which suggests it’s a mainstream activity. This is backed up by a Harris Poll survey of 1,200 workers where 50% admitted to having previously quietly vacationed around the Fourth of July holiday. 

A drop in productivity can be a sign of quiet vacationing

By its very nature, quiet vacationing is meant to be undetectable by the employer. You won’t know for certain that someone is quietly vacationing unless you catch them in the act, which is unlikely to happen as they are remotely working out of sight. 

But the most obvious signs are a drop in productivity and a reduction in responsiveness during working hours. This drop in productivity can be explained by legitimate factors too such as burnout and illness, with a proper review needing to take place before drawing any conclusions. And, this is exactly what Wells Fargo did. After suspecting quiet vacationing, Wells Fargo launched an internal investigation into the possible use of mouse-over technology to simulate keyboard activity and pretend they were working. Twelve employees were eventually terminated on the grounds of unethical behaviour. 

Set some clear boundaries around remote work 

Setting clear expectations for teams and employees helps all stakeholders. Establish clear boundaries around remote work to help reign in any potential quiet vacationing behaviour.

There are many ways to do this, but a good starting point could be a team memo outlining a zero-tolerance approach to quiet vacationing on the grounds of unethical and dishonest behaviour. This should list the illicit types of behaviour that constitute quiet vacationing in unmistakable terms. It should also outline the consequences if an employee is caught engaging in this behaviour, e.g. gross misconduct, meaning it is a potentially dismissible offence. 

Be reasonable with expectations. If somebody needs to leave a bit early before Canada Day weekend, that’s fine. Don’t forget the objective, which is that employees deliver the required work. An outdoor walk or a dentist appointment during work hours is not quiet vacationing - that’s just part of managing work and life. The objective is not to make employees nervous to leave their desk between 9-5.

Encourage people to use their PTO

Some interesting research from the Pew Research Center revealed that just 48% of surveyed workers use all their vacation days. Time off is important to recharge. Employees can avoid taking PTO because they don’t feel they need it, worry about falling behind, feel bad about abandoning co-workers, or think it might damage their career prospects. 12% even suggested that their boss discourages time off. So, it could be that employees are feeling trapped and are reacting by quiet vacationing.

Employers should ideally encourage staff to use their PTO, (and ensure that line managers lead by example too for maximum uptake), and this should reduce the urge and hopefully incidence of quiet vacationing. If you are a metric-driven HR professional, you can measure productivity before and after such an intervention to gauge adoption.

Promote your PTO and/or flexible working policies

A recent survey reported in People Management Magazine suggested that 60% of employees won’t read their employee handbook. That said, could ignorance of available PTO and flexible working policies be driving some of the unethical quiet vacationing? 

Perhaps your PTO policies are gathering dust somewhere or just buried in a mountain of HR files. We’ve all been there if you don’t have a readily accessible, up-to-date, written PTO policy and a clear stance on flexible working (whether for or against) then employees may be making up the rules themselves and implementing them accordingly. 

By clarifying and promoting your PTO and flexible working policies, you can help employees and managers get on the same page.  For example, if employees know it’s OK (or not OK) to schedule a mid-morning chiropractor appointment, they are more likely to act accordingly. Also, loosening the organizational grip and giving workers some agreed flexibility in their work could again reduce unethical quiet vacationing.

Additionally, keep these policies as short and employee-friendly as possible. Nobody wants to read, write, or comment on a wordy 20-page time off policy.

In conclusion

The approach that HR or a manager should take when dealing with quiet vacationing depends on how severe and widespread the problem is.

If quiet vacationing has become a widespread and unwanted part of your culture, a concerted culture change or correction is likely needed. This would involve establishing clear boundaries and carefully constructing an environment and culture where employees take PTO and can work flexibly within your organization’s guidelines.

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