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Should employees be allowed to take ‘workcations?’

Combining work and play through short breaks

By Brian Kreissl

Last week, I questioned whether work can ever truly be fun. While I do believe in most cases work and leisure should be separated, it is possible at times to combine work and play. One example of this is what some people are starting to refer to as “workcations.”

Since it's summertime, I thought it might make sense to devote a post to this phenomenon. The idea is people should be able to work on the beach or at the cottage — particularly if their work is the type of thing that can be completed anywhere, at least for a few days or so.

Modern technology, the rise of flexible work, less focus on “face time” and concerns about work/life balance are driving the move towards ‎allowing employees to combine work with travel and leisure pursuits. Many people have limited vacation time, extreme workloads or hectic schedules that make it difficult if not impossible to take time away from the office for an actual vacation. Others have personal responsibilities that may require them to leave town for a few days and take their work with them.

Even if people do have sufficient vacation time, they might prefer not to use their time off when they know it is going to be impossible for them to unplug completely. Allowing one’s family to enjoy themselves during the day at a vacation destination while getting caught up at work and perhaps joining your family for fun activities in the evening may be sufficient to provide a break and a change of scenery.

Many employers are starting to realize that simply working in a different location temporarily can be enough to ameliorate the daily drudgery in employees’ work lives. Completing work at an off-site location doesn’t mean people are working any less hard, nor does it mean they will necessarily be too distracted to be productive.

In fact, working in a pleasant environment may be just what the doctor ordered for relieving stress and burnout. In the case of creative occupations, it may even result in higher quality work.

Combining work and travel

My own personal belief is employers should allow employees to combine work with leisure travel where possible. Conversely, it should also be possible and even desirable to have some fun on a business trip, for example, by extending one’s stay by a few days (at the employee’s expense) and taking a later flight back.

I have friends and colleagues who have added a few extra days to a business trip and took time to explore the surrounding area. (Because I have family and friends in Scotland, I keep on hoping I get sent on a business trip to Thomson Reuters’ Edinburgh office, but for some reason that never seems to happen.)

But even if an extended business trip isn’t a possibility, it’s always a good idea to try to do some exploring in the evenings. If I hadn’t done that, I may never have discovered Calgary’s thriving craft beer scene or have had the chance to explore Vancouver’s Stanley Park, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland or the Saint John City Market in Saint John, N.B.

Traditional “working holidays” generally involved working a temporary position — usually in some desirable location — for a few months or so, while travelling and exploring the surrounding area. While relatively few people are able to take advantage of such opportunities (generally those with relatively few commitments or financial obligations), the possibility of taking a short workcation is much more realistic for most people.

However, short working vacations aren’t for everyone. It is difficult to see how most retail, manufacturing or technical support workers would be able to work on the beach or at a summer rental for a few days.

But for most office workers — particularly where there are no performance issues and the organization supports flexible work arrangements — there should be no reason why people can’t type reports, answer e-mails, write content or log on to conference calls remotely, whether the location is in Toronto, Muskoka or Bora Bora.

Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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