Quiet Vacationing: How Managers Can Spot and Fight It

Bosses generally want rested workers. But they also want staff to get things done. Enter the conundrum of paid time off (PTO), which Gen Z and millennials have been leaving on the table for a number of reasons. In fact, 78% of workers in the US say they don’t take all of their PTO. 

This has created a workaround culture of “quiet vacationing,” the practice of taking time off without telling anyone. This creates an environment of distrust between employees and management that can only be dissipated with clear policies and communication.

Why Employees Aren’t Taking Their PTO

This pattern is not new. The influx of requests once you’ve made everyone aware that you’re going to be off can sometimes be overwhelming and even interfere with your vacation, especially if someone decides they need something done at the last minute. Sometimes, it really is just easier to continue working while you are supposed to be off to prevent the stress leading up to and coming back from time off. Newer generations have adapted to simply not taking mandated PTO and instead taking time off when they want without telling anyone. 

Add the possibility of bad perceptions into the mix, and you can see why quiet vacationing may be tempting; co-workers and managers can perceive you as a slacker if you openly take PTO. Gen Z, in particular, is afraid of this reputational hit. They’d rather be unreachable for a few hours on some Friday afternoons than for a solid two-week block. This cohort views unlimited or a lot of PTO as a trap that management wants them to walk into rather than as an employment benefit. 

Of course, there will always be employees who push the envelope by trying to game the system to get as much time off as possible. These employees will likely take all of their PTO and “quiet vacation” on top of that, where most will not. Managers generally know who those employees are, and they typically show other kinds of  problematic behavior like coming in late and leaving early, skipping team building events, and so on.

What Managers Can Do To Prevent “Quiet Vacationing”

This trend is on the rise, unfortunately, due to a failure of management rather than any slacking on the part of staff. While working until you drop is a revered work style, the drawbacks are obvious and unproductive over the long-term. 

As a manager, it is your responsibility to make sure your people are rested and work is covered. If people are sneaking out, it is because they don’t feel like they can take PTO without repercussions, such as being passed over for promotions or not getting choice assignments. 

The secret sauce to getting it right is to communicate loud and clear that nobody taking vacation will, in any way, be retaliated against for doing so. You should also provide a clear roadmap for what to do while out and take your own vacation in the mandated manner. 

Here are a few things you can do to create a more supportive PTO culture.

1. Establish a Clear PTO Policy

You need a clear policy that goes into minute detail about how to take paid time off. The policy should outline how work is to be covered, what vacation responders should look like on emails, how far in advance the PTO has to be requested, and any other details required for someone to take time off. This provides some peace of mind and direction to both the team filling in and the person who will be off. A clear policy is also conveniently something you can point to for those team members who like to push the envelope. 

In the policy, you should address “quiet vacationing” and outline the consequences for taking time off without alerting anyone. For example, if someone is clearly not available when they should be, they could have the equivalent time docked from their allotted PTO. You will need to work with human resources to ensure the PTO policy is legal and doesn’t infringe on employment agreements or worker rights. 

There should also be consequences for managers who force staff to work while they are supposed to be on vacation. These should be clearly outlined in the same policy. Consequences for everyone who ignores the rules signals to employees that you view their time off as a protected benefit, creating that supportive culture you’re looking for.

2. Make Time Off Mandatory

The same policy should also make a certain amount of PTO mandatory. According to the Harvard Business Review, year-end performance for employees rose by 8% for each additional 10 hours of vacation time that they took. With 78% of employees not taking their allotted vacation time, it’s costing your company a significant amount of performance. 

To truly see the benefit, at least some of that time should be in longer stretches, such as a full week or more. Taking one day off a week in the summer can be relaxing, but isn’t going to give staff the full recharge they need.

3. Lead by Example

Employees will mirror the behavior of their bosses when it comes to taking vacation. Make sure you’re following your PTO policy to the letter, and take that time to be truly unavailable and to recharge. This is doubly hard as a manager, especially if you are a people leader and always want to be there for your staff. Resisting that impulse, ironically, may do more for your people than giving in to it.

4. Address Stragglers Individually

If you’ve noticed that specific employees haven’t put in any PTO requests by the end of Q2, meet with them individually to work it out. Make sure they know that they can take it without repercussions and walk them through the process of requesting days off. 

Some may be waiting for plans to firm up, but this will let you keep the people afraid of reputational damage from falling through the cracks. If they haven’t made any requests by the beginning of the summer season, they are likely in the “scared to request time off” camp, and you should work with them to assign time off at that point.

Catch “Quiet Vacationing” With Prodoscore

Our employee productivity monitoring solution was designed to reward the good. In the few use cases where it can catch bad practices, such as this one, it is in the employee’s best interest. If you see that an employee is consistently not in their tech tools for a stretch of a few hours or a day each week, for example, it could signal that they are choosing to duck out instead of calling out. Prodoscore lets you catch this quickly so you can notify them that you prefer to be notified and for PTO to be logged.

This keeps them on track for performance reviews and also well-rested, giving you the productivity you want and them the vacation that they need. Contact us for a demonstration.

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