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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

A ‘Workcation’ Is Not a Thing. Let’s Not Make It One With a Cutesy Name.

frustrated bulldog resting its head on a conference room table next to a notebook, pen, and wireless keyboard
Bailey Zelena; monkeybusinessimages/Getty Images

As a writer on the internet, I get a lot of pitches in my inbox that I don’t want to pursue. Most of the time, it’s because the topics are almost hilariously unrelated to what The Muse covers. As I’m typing, emails about “Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day hacks” (are they the same hacks?), the premiere of Night Court, and lots of AI nonsense are crowding out the relevant pitches and emails from people I actually know.

Every once in a while, something catches my eye not because it’s a promising pitch or a ridiculously random one, but because it makes me aware of a concept or trend so terrible that I want to take away the internet access of the person who conceived of it. Most recently it was a subject line containing the word “workcations.”

Purportedly, workcations are when you go away on vacation but work while you’re there. And no. Just no. We’re not doing this.

Remote and hybrid work are great because of the freedom and flexibility they allow you. You’re not tied to an office, so you can get work done from anywhere. And the COVID-19 pandemic has only reinforced that remote work is work and for many people it’s more productive than in-office work.

So if you go somewhere that’s not your home and do work from a different location than you usually do, then that’s still work! We don’t need a new term for it. The concept is inherently baked into remote work.

Don’t get me wrong—working from a new location can be great. I’ve done it. I would’ve done it more in the past few years, but I chose “adopted a dog during quarantine” as my millennial pandemic archetype, which kind of restricted me from fully switching to “digital nomad” later on. But working from my parents’ house or a friend’s place in a different state was still work. I still had the same responsibilities and stressors. The same is true for those who work remotely in more exciting locations.

Trying to push the term “workcation” not-so-subtly implies that it’s somehow a break. But it’s not. And using the term will only exacerbate the erosion of the boundaries between our work and personal lives. If you can work from wherever and call it a “workcation,” then what stops toxic workplaces or managers from expecting that as the default? Imagine going to Disney World and sitting in a hotel room staring at your laptop while the rest of your group goes to theme parks. Or going to a beautiful city you’ve never been to before and only seeing the one cafe with WiFi that’s also quiet enough for Zoom meetings.

I’m not just ranting or fear mongering here. In a survey of 1,007 Americans, JobSage found that 47% of respondents had taken a “workcation” at some point because they couldn’t take the time off from work. And it wasn’t that they “couldn’t take the time off” because they were lacking in PTO—of the survey group:

  • 71% left PTO on the table in 2022
  • 39% used less than half of their allotted PTO
  • About 20% used no PTO at all

So at least some of those who've taken “workcations” didn’t do it because they’d already taken all of their available time off. Something in their job or work environment was making them feel like they couldn’t take a full break. Even among those who said they took a “regular vacation” in 2022, 54% did some work during it. And pushing the concept of “workcations” isn’t going to make things better.

People need time off. Even when they work from home. You need the time to disconnect, recharge, and just live. Not only is it good for your personal life, but it’s also good for your professional performance. Research has shown that those who routinely take 11 or more days of PTO a year are three times as likely to get raises and promotions. Even the U.S. surgeon general identified adequate access to paid leave as one of the pillars of a healthy, non-toxic work environment (and not being able to use all your PTO means you don’t have adequate access).

Remember “quiet quitting”? Remember how the phrase that simply meant “doing your job and not going above and beyond” suddenly spawned a thousand think pieces and social media posts about how “lazy and entitled” workers are? (And just as many that said the quiet-quitting decriers were overreacting or pointed out the problems with the whole conversation?)

By giving something a name, we give it an identity, and the name itself can influence its identity. Would a rose by any other name still smell as sweet? Probably. But if it were called “dead fish flower,” I don’t think it would be a Valentine’s Day bestseller.

So when you or your employee plan to work remotely from a different location, let’s call it what it is—work!—so that the idea of a vacation doesn’t get further tainted. And when it comes to the phrase “workcation,” let’s just shut it down now—before the hustle culture people get a hold of it.