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July 20, 2022

Why everyone is on the 'Great Vacation' (and what to do about it)

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    After two years of Covid-19 lockdowns and canceled trips, workers are finally "ready to reconnect, with enormous amounts of YOLO, FOMO, and saved up PTO," triggering what some experts are calling the "Great Vacation," Zara Stone writes for Fast Company.

    Employee expectations are rapidly evolving. Here’s how your organization can respond.

    US workers are requesting 'enormous amounts' of PTO

    In 2020, 63% of U.S. workers canceled or postponed their vacations. On average, Americans in 2021 had 4.6 days of unclaimed PTO, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

    However, workers are now "feeling flush, and everyone's rushing to make up for lost time," Stone reports. According to a Destination Analystssurvey, over 87% of Americans currently have vacation plans. AirBnb recently reported that their summer reservations are a record 30% higher than they were before the pandemic, and airline flights are often overbooked.

    With so many workers taking "enormous amounts" of PTO, employers have found themselves in the awkward position of denying employees' time off—and potentially losing staff—or approving the requests, with the risk of halting business, Stone reports.

    "Now we are freed from our Zoom prisons, there is two years of pent-up demand to travel," said Henry Harteveldt, president of Atmosphere Research Group. According to Harteveldt, many workers are feeling a sense of urgency. "People are intent on taking advantage of the moment," he added.

    Harteveldt's research suggests that workers are prioritizing travel over other activities, including in-person parties, barhopping, in-store shopping, and live music events. Many people started planning their vacations as early as February and March. Notably, roughly 26% of those surveyed reported a high interest in "bucket list trips." 

    "That's playing out at offices, with employees making up for postponed weddings, missed vacations, and other big milestones," Stone writes.

    How companies are handling the 'Great Vacation'

    With everyone trying to make up for missed experiences, summer 2022 has "created a perfect storm of everyone wanting to be away at the same time," said Christy Pruitt-Haynes, an HR consultant at the NeuroLeadership Institute.

    Amid the "Great Vacation," some managers have adjusted project completion dates and renegotiated deadlines with clients, while others have delayed their own plans to cover for staff during PTO.

    "Companies are trying to avoid just flat out saying no to vacation requests, because they're concerned their employees will simply lean into the Great Resignation," said Pruitt-Haynes.

    "Despite the intense summer vacation rush, a number of companies are actually incentivizing workers to take time off in an effort to mitigate rising burnout," Stone writes.

    For example, Evernote recently debuted "wellness weekends," a 3-4 day company-wide shutdown to help prevent burnout. "This helps people decompress," said Susan Stick, SVP of people at Evernote. "On vacation, the rest of the company keeps going. [whereas] this quiets the noise and the Slacks and the emails."

    While this approach has become more popular in recent years, this summer's influx ofPTO requests has left some managers with "scheduling conflicts, possibly exacerbated by the nature of remote work," Stone notes.

    "[When] we had a primarily office culture, people were better about asking the person next to them, 'Are you taking a vacation?'—that kind of thing," said Ciara Lakhani, chief people officer at digital password manager startup Dashlane.

    According to Lakhani, Dashlane's general policy is not to deny U.S. staff's unlimited PTO. However, they noticed employees on the same team were booking nonrefundable vacations before checking in with coworkers.

    "We really respect people's personal lives … so we [try] to find a way to accommodate," said Lakhani. To overcome the issue, managers were given coaching on vacation planning policies. "We've needed to invest more in explaining to people why they should coordinate with each other," Lakhani added.

    Other companies have introduced smaller breaks outside of vacation days. For example, Ethena in May launched a new initiative for employees that gives them 20 days PTO, a holiday week, five summer Fridays, and unlimited half days for anyone who completes their work early. "It's [built] even more of a mutual sense of trust between employees and employer," said Melanie Naranjo, Ethena's VP of people. 

    Some companies, like Xos, have invested in cross-functional training. According to Jessica Ramirez, VP of human resources at Xos, all employees are given the training necessary to cover for team members. As a result, team members are generally allowed to take time off after they have exhausted their 15 days of PTO—as long as there is no immediate impact on the rest of the team. "It's a great way to encourage morale," Ramirez said.

    "COVID has accelerated and really changed the way businesses and leaders run their departments and their teams," she added, so fluidity is vital. 

    Ultimately, it is important to remember that the "Great Vacation" is likely temporary, Pruitt-Haynes noted. The volume of time-off requests this summer is not normal. Typically, summers are not this hectic—and once people feel like they have made up for the travel experiences they missed during the pandemic, Pruitt-Haynes predicts that everything will go back to normal.

    "It will just take a little time—and a little time off," Stone writes. (Stone, Fast Company, 7/15)

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