According to a recent article published in the Washington Post, the phenomenon of the “workcation” is on the rise. These hybrid work-play trips promise to combine the best parts of a productive workday with a relaxing vacation. A “best of both worlds” pitch is always tempting—but what if it’s a total lie?
Here’s how a “workcation” is supposed to go: You set up shop in a new city and work remotely during the day, leaving evenings and weekends free for vacation activities. Theoretically, this provides you with precious flexibility, which makes extended stays easier to pull off. But if you’re a workaholic (or your company expects you to be), you’ll probably find yourself sticking to your usual schedule—time differences be damned—leaving less time for leisure activities than you’d imagined.
Meanwhile, on the work side of things, you’ll likely get less done than you could at home because, let’s face it, chilling by the pool with a book is way more fun than taking your third Zoom meeting of the day. It’s like intentionally planning a tropical vacation during hurricane season so you can stay inside and work while your increasingly bored companions climb the walls.
This is why it’s so baffling to see “workcations” marketed to traveling families. I’m not a parent, but to me, this seems like the worst possible use case. Sure, bringing your family on a business trip means they’ll get plenty of time to explore their new surroundings—without you. Not only is that kind of a bummer for your kids and spouse, who presumably want to hang out with you, it also takes for granted that your spouse is available for full-time kid wrangling to facilitate your plan to work full-time on vacation.
Workcations benefit your employer, not you
If this is starting to sound like the opposite of “the best of both worlds,” that’s because it is—but only for you. Employers love this shit. When you take time off, they have to pay PTO and figure out how to cover your responsibilities; when you take a business trip, they pick up the tab (or at least they’re supposed to). Taking a “workcation” conveniently lets them off the hook on both counts and gives them PR material: They can spin your trip as a “perk” to prospective employees while discouraging existing ones from actually taking restful time off, especially lower-ranking workers. Your direct reports might see you on Zoom and think, “Damn, if my manager is working on vacation, I probably should, too.” (This is bad.)
Unsurprisingly, companies like AirBnB, Landing (which is basically AirBnB for apartment sublets, and whose CEO is quoted in the Post article), and Blueground (same, minus the quote) also love this trend. Convincing remote workers to uproot their lives for months at a time increases the demand for non-hotel lodging, which makes their valuations go up, which allows them to secure even more funding from private equity and/or venture capital firms—and that’s what this is really all about. (Air BnB made $3.4 billion in revenue last year and still got a literal billion dollars in private equity from Sixth Street Partners and Silver Lake Partners in April 2020, so clearly, the strategy is working.)
It’s almost too much that a how-to guide for never going on vacation appeared in the Washington Post, which is owned by a man who could send himself to not-space because his employees are so afraid of getting fired that they piss in bottles, pass out, and even die on the job. In many ways, it’s the culmination of a nearly century-long crusade against things like “a living wage” and “occasionally not working.”
The Federal Labor Standards Act of 1938 established a minimum wage of $7.25 and limited the standard work week to 40 hours, among other things. Naturally, corporations have spent the last 80 years successfully weakening the FLSA (and the labor unions that made it happen) so they can finally bring back 18-hour shifts for 12-year-olds. If you could bring John D. Rockefeller or Gilded Age copper baron Marcus Daly back to life for a day, they’d die of happiness the second someone explained workcations. Expecting your employees to work on vacation without saying so outright—and somehow getting them to thank you for it!—is exactly the kind of genius they would have appreciated.
There are some people for whom a “workcation” is plausible, or even desirable—but they call it it being a “digital nomad,” and it’s more of an intentional, long-term lifestyle choice. The vast majority of workers can’t pull this off, and bosses know it. But offering better vacation benefits is expensive; laundering the concept of working 24/7 into something that sounds cool is free. Don’t fall for it. You only get one life—don’t spend it working on vacation.