During the four years that Earle Richards spent developing marketing strategies for digital advertising firms, he rarely took a vacation day in hopes that he would impress his boss and alleviate a massive backlog of work when he returned.
Even though he let his vacation days of two weeks expire year after year, the New Yorker never felt a twinge of regret despite consistently putting in ten-hour work days every week. Taking vacations was not frowned upon at the firms and Richards knew his team would cover his workload during his time off, but “you knew it was a rough re-entry,” he said.
“The work would be waiting for you,” said Richards, who is now a freelance consultant for startups, media and agencies. “I just didn’t see the point of being penalized when you returned.”
This sentiment is becoming increasingly popular as more employees want to take vacations, but are fearful of the backlash they could incur among co-workers. While they plan and schedule trips, they have found another method to cope with potential conflict by waiting until the last possible minute to inform them that they will be out of the office.
Adopting a strategy of taking a “stealth” vacation, taking off last minute or not requesting or announcing an official vacation at all, is likely the product of a workplace culture which not only encourages, but rewards employees for putting in long work weeks. Of course, this method can affect project deadlines or client meetings.
Managers are noticing and frowning upon this trend since their employees are not committing to vacation days ahead of time. In August, CEO Karen Firestone observed that her employees at Aureus Asset Management, a Boston asset management firm, were still reluctant to announce their vacation plans. She found this phenomenon both frustrating and vexing, because it disrupted potential plans with clients, she wrote in the Harvard Business Review.
“We have asked, even pleaded, that people mark the days when they will be away, even if they are still tentative,” Firestone wrote. “To be fair, some of my colleagues, with a degree of self-confidence and consideration, do indicate their days off well in advance — but the practice of the stealth vacation still persists.”
For 22 years, she was pressured heavily at her prior finance jobs from her co-workers who boasted endlessly about spending the majority of their time at the office. When Firestone started her own firm, she didn’t want her own employees to feel inadequate for not putting in enough hours.
Although she continues to encourage her employees to “to take a break and get away from the office,” she still faces some pushback. Firestone has worked at creating more transparency and trust by announcing her own vacation plans and has urged her senior managers to follow suit.
Feeling guilty about taking time off may not vanish entirely, but Firestone believes that people need to be “comfortable with accepting our own need for time off,” she wrote.
“If people have to sheepishly admit that they were planning on being off later this week or next week, it’s not as if they are coming clean about a coke addiction,” Firestone wrote. “It is just vacation — and they deserve it.”
Employees Leave Vacation Days On the Table...