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Quiet vacationing is on the rise — but why should we fear time off?

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Ever taken a ‘quiet vacation’ from work? (Picture: Getty Images)

There’s no feeling like it: signing off work with a little out-of-office message, packing your bags and heading to the airport. The holiday vibes are here, and they feel good.

But what happens if you’re out of annual leave? Or have a boss who’s super picky with when you take time off? Enter: quiet vacationing.

According to the Out of Office Culture Report commissioned by The Harris Poll, 37% of Millennial workers in the US admitted to taking time off without informing their managers.

The same research found that 78% of American workers don’t use up all of their annual leave, whether for fear of being judged by their co-workers, strict policies on taking holidays or otherwise.

It’s worth noting that, in the US specifically, paid annual leave typically isn’t as generous as it is in the UK: according to research from Forbes, the average US private sector worker gets just 11 days of paid holiday each year, increasing to 15 after five years of service at one company – so it’s little surprise that employees are sneaking in time off where they can.

That’s not to say that the UK is a workplace utopia, though. The law states that 9-5 workers must receive at least 28 days of paid annual leave each year.

In fact, there are other countries with more generous policies – notably Andorra, which, according to HR Review, offers an average annual leave balance of 45 days, while Malta comes in at 41, Estonia 39, and Iceland 38.

As global speaker on burnout prevention and wellbeing, Leanne Spencer, tells Metro.co.uk, ‘quiet vacationing’ is a ‘subtle’ way to take time off without formally booking annual leave.

Why do we fear taking time off when we’re legally entitled to it? (Picture: Getty Images)

‘It might also be taking time off under the guise of remote working, for example, and can include scheduling emails out of hours to appear busy, being present on calls or messaging platforms, moving the mouse to indicate activity (if a company is tracking keyboard strokes and mouse clicks) but not actually being productive,’ Leanne adds.

So, what is quiet vacationing really about? And why do we fear taking time off when we’re legally entitled to it?

As Leanne explains, it could be a response to the ‘increasing mismatch’ between the younger generations (Millennials and Gen Zs) and the older in terms of work/life balance and what should and should not be expected of employees in the workplace.

‘Multi-generational teams have grown up with different expectations of what work/life balance is, and what they will and won’t accept,’ Leanne explains.

‘Quiet vacationing is their compromise; they’ll do a certain amount of work, but from the beach or an AirBnB where they might also be (quietly) vacationing.’

However, quiet vacationing isn’t necessarily just a case of only younger workers rebelling; for many, taking annual leave can be anxiety-inducing for many reasons, whether that’s because they have a judgmental boss or they fear looking like a ‘slacker.’

‘We live in a culture of presenteeism, where employees may feel under pressure to show up to work even when they’re ill. Many feel that they must be “seen” to be working late even when they’re not being productive,’ Chloe Brotheridge, hypnotherapist, coach and expert on high functioning anxiety and author of The Anxiety Solution tells Metro.co.uk.

‘Some company bosses, however, believe that employees can’t be trusted to work from home or that more time working equals more productivity.’

But, when it comes to work-life balance, it’s critical that employees take time off to prevent burnout – so if you feel bad putting that time-off request in: don’t.

‘Vacations are an opportunity to disconnect and recharge in a new setting, away from the demands of work and technology – it’s an example of deliberate rest,’ Leanne adds.

And if you’re all out of annual leave, taking small, micro-breaks at work can prove effective in reducing burnout.

‘Even smaller breaks from work can be incredibly effective; mini breaks, or what I call slivers of recovery can be very effective. Take as little as a few minutes, but have a big effect on productivity.

‘Taking short breaks boosts concentration, focus and productivity. Examples include a brisk ten-minute walk (proven to boost mood and energy), a movement snack, breathwork or meditation or simply daydreaming out the window to let your mind wander,’ she explains.

Communicating to your boss that you’ll be taking annual leave can also be useful in setting boundaries so that when you do take it, you can do so with confidence and effectively reduce the need to ‘quietly’ go on holiday.

‘Have a conversation with your manager to let them know that you’re taking leave and would like to prioritise rest and recovery to come back revitalised and recharged,’ Leanne concludes.

‘While the manager and company need to respect this, it’s also down to us to put those boundaries in place and observe them,’ she adds, noting that implementing an out-of-office message, deleting email apps from your phone and leaving your work laptop at home can all help to maintain that mental distance from the office.

So, the next time you go on holiday, enjoy it! (And remember to stay off those pesky work emails).

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