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Do Working Vacations Ever Make Sense?

By Maurie Backman - Nov 21, 2018 at 8:34AM

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The quick answer: Sometimes.

Though Americans don't get many vacation days to begin with, at least compared to workers in other nations, we're collectively pretty bad about using them up. In fact, more than half of U.S. employees left unused vacation days on the table in 2017, thereby foregoing billions in lost benefits. And while some folks avoid taking vacation because they fear it'll make them look bad, for others, it's a matter of being too busy at work to get away.

And there lies the case for the working vacation. Though perhaps not an ideal solution, working vacations essentially offer employees the best of both worlds -- an opportunity to get a change of pace and scenery without falling too far behind on job-related responsibilities. The question is: Do working vacations actually make sense or are they relatively useless in all regards?

Man on laptop at pool


Does it pay to get away with your laptop?

There's something to be said about going on vacation, even if part of that time away is spent checking work emails and hammering out presentations. If the only way for you to get away is to take a working vacation, then you may be better off going that route than not getting a break at all.

Imagine you were forced to use up all of your paid time off to deal with a move or obligatory trip to see family, but you're itching for a beach getaway in December. If your company agrees not to dock your pay while you're away -- provided you're actually reachable and on duty those days -- then a working vacation might be a good solution. This way, you get that escape and you have the option, conceivably, to tack on weekend days so you're getting some time on the beach without your laptop.

Here's another scenario to consider. Say you're low on vacation days but your kids have a week off from school. If you only have 2.5 paid days left but your company allows you to work them remotely, you can travel somewhere as a family, work half days, and enjoy your remaining time away without losing pay.

Even if vacation days aren't an issue, working while away might help reduce or eliminate some of the stress you might otherwise experience by escaping fully and falling behind. If, for example, you get a great deal on a trip you've been eyeing but know you have a pressing deadline upon your return, putting in a little work time during that jaunt might actually help you enjoy it more.

Of course, some folks will argue that working vacations aren't ideal. After all, why spend all of that money to get away but not fully enjoy your time at your destination? Imagine you pay for an all-inclusive resort but don't get to do half the activities it offers because you're chained to your laptop. That would be a bummer, to say the least. On the other hand, if you're content getting to have some leisure time while away, then it might be worth paying for that trip after all.

If you're thinking of taking a working vacation, the real question to ask yourself is whether you believe it'll result in an actual mental break -- and an enjoyable one at that. If so, then it's an option worth going for.

But if you're convinced that you'll resent having to pay for a full vacation when you can't enjoy it fully or that you won't get a real mental break when you have to be mindful of scheduled conference calls, then you're probably better off saving your money and just staying home.

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