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Gallup Blog

The Working Vacation

by Nate Dvorak
Chart: data points are described in article

I'd like to begin with a shameless confession. I'm writing this article while on vacation, sitting on a dock overlooking a lake in New York on a peaceful September morning. The scene is almost perfect, and it sure beats the view from my office.

Why am I working on vacation? Honestly, because I want to. My ideal vacation does not involve logging off Outlook, reassigning tasks and completely unplugging from the office.

Work often comes along for my vacations, as it does for countless others.

Employees' willingness to work on vacation (or their lack thereof) is largely dependent on their overall engagement at work. Gallup's research shows that fully engaged employees -- those who have real emotional connections with their workplaces -- find fulfillment in staying connected and productive. They feel a sense of responsibility for their work, and they are willing to pause their vacations to keep important projects moving forward.

Engaged employees also maintain positive, trusting relationships with their coworkers -- often regarding them as "best friends" at work. Even on vacation, engaged workers are likely to view conversations with close coworkers as meaningful social connections and less as an imposition on time away from work.

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Others factors play a role in employees' willingness to work on vacation. For example, if an employee is free to leave at 3 p.m. for their child's soccer game, it would seem to follow that they might be more inclined to spend a few hours answering emails on vacation.

More than ever, workplace trends support engaged employees' desire for constant connection to their work. Working remotely and flexible work arrangements (FWAs) are on the rise, and technology allows for seamless connections at any time and place. As a result, the line between work and vacation is increasingly blurred.

Gallup finds that 66% of Americans report they complete more work outside normal working hours because of mobile technology advances over the last decade, and 43% of U.S. employees work remotely in some capacity.

Of course, some job types and industries cannot offer flexible time or locations, precluding these workers from working lightly on vacation. For many employees, however, flextime and remote work are vacation game-changers. The light-work vacation is a win-win scenario with incredible potential to boost employee well-being and organizational outcomes.

For some employees, staying in the loop on vacation can prevent overwhelming backlogs upon returning to work. And, if employees work periodically on vacation to avoid excessively delaying projects, they might even be able to enjoy lengthier vacations.

For businesses, the light-work vacation can be a major outcome driver. For example, my willingness to participate in conference calls with colleagues and clients in Singapore, Sydney and Omaha -- all while on vacation in western New York -- helped my employer better serve and impress clients.

By managing employee engagement and using FWAs effectively, companies can enable engaged workers to follow their natural inclinations to complete light tasks while on vacation. What follows are some strategies to make this arrangement successful.

Strategies for Managers

Give employees what they need to stay connected.

Materials and equipment are a basic employee need. To help employees seamlessly work on vacation, managers should ensure employees have all necessary resources, such as laptops and Wi-Fi hotspots.

Communicate openly.

Managers should collaborate to clarify expectations and help employees find the right balance between work and vacation. For example, should employees check email daily while on vacation? Are there pressing projects that employees need to review while out of the office? Clarity about expectations prior to vacations is critical.

Know your people -- and when they need to unplug.

Managers should be flexible and trusting -- individualize vacation expectations with workers. Answering emails and conference calls on vacation might be ideal for some employees; others need to completely unplug. For managers, it's all about identifying and accommodating each employee's needs.

Considerations for Leaders

Re-evaluate traditional, structured vacation policies.

Gallup finds that vacation quality bests quantity, and employee engagement matters. In fact, employees with six or more weeks of annual vacation time who are actively disengaged in their work and workplace have lower overall well-being than those who are engaged and have less than one week of vacation time.

Build a culture of flexibility.

Offering flexibility does leaps and bounds for attraction and retention. Flexibility is also linked to improved employee engagement, well-being, productivity, performance, satisfaction and innovation.

Bailey Nelson contributed to the writing of this article.

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