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What is 'leaveism'? When vacations are just another day at work

The growing practice of "leaveism" consists in using one's vacation or any other non-working time... to advance on certain professional tasks

Published: Dec 6, 2022 01:21:35 PM IST
Updated: Dec 6, 2022 03:32:54 PM IST

What is 'leaveism'? When vacations are just another day at workMany employees find themselves compelled to work outside their contracted hours or even on their days off. Image: Yvan Cohen/LightRocket via Getty Images

Flexible hours, remote working, four-day weeks... Work is becoming more and more flexible. But as boundaries between work life and home life blur, these evolutions are also having repercussions on vacation or leave-taking. The growing practice of "leaveism" consists in using one's vacation or any other non-working time... to advance on certain professional tasks.

Working while on vacation may seem like a crazy idea, but it's gaining ground as work's tilt towards greater flexibility undermines the work-life balance. The concept may be somewhat reminiscent of "workation," a portmanteau word of "work" and "vacation."

Except that these two terms don't exactly refer to the same thing: leaveism is a deleterious practice adopted by some employees who are anxious about a workload they consider insurmountable, whereas workcation concerns digital nomads who want to combine business with pleasure.

Despite the development of new technologies and forms of organization, many feel that work is becoming more intense and stressful. Many employees complain of being overwhelmed and have difficulty concentrating on tasks that require their full attention. This is due to a seemingly constant flow of emails, notifications and other digital distractions.

Added to this is an overuse of meetings, or "meetingitis." This practice is estimated to cost large companies $100 million in lost revenue, according to a report from the University of North Carolina. It also greatly affects employees' productivity—often a key metric for employers—since they tend to be spending, on average, 18 hours per week in 17.7 meetings.

Also read: Digital nomad visas offer new opportunities for remote workers

A springboard to burnout

As a result, many find themselves compelled or needing to work outside of their contracted work hours, or even on their days off. Concessions such as being reachable from the ski slopes or sorting through 180 unread emails between buying two Christmas presents seem harmless enough, but they can lead to long-term burnout. Indeed, leaveism is the manifestation of the state of permanent vigilance in which some employees find themselves, afraid of missing something during their absence (known as "FOMO") or unable to set limits in a hyper-connected working world.

It's a pitfall that many workers have walked into in recent years. More than two-thirds of UK HR managers have experienced leaveism, according to the 2022 edition of the "Health and Wellbeing at Work" report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. Only 30% of employees surveyed say their company has measures in place to combat this phenomenon.

However there are great incentives to implement such measures, according to Amrit Sandhar, founder of The Engagement Coach. "Organizations that work in an 'always-on' culture can cause the burnout of their employees, who are mentally and physically exhausted from working long hours and trying to manage huge pressures," he told Stylist. "[Denying] our minds and bodies the ability to detach from work ... can reduce the passion we have for [it.] What may have started off as a great job, may now feel like a burden, leading to disengagement."

Also read: 7 tips to thrive in a hybrid work environment

One of the consequences risked by leaveists is therefore the loss of meaning at work. This phenomenon is more difficult to spot than burnout because it is less dramatic, but it is no less widespread. According to a recent study by the Jean-Jaurès Foundation in partnership with IFOP, 24% of French people believe that work is very important in their lives, compared to 60% in 1990.

This is where the phenomenon may link up with the recent "quiet quitting" advocates: if work loses its value, then there is no need to work yourself to death to do it well, is their philosophy. And herein is where the problem lies: leaveism does not make us better employees. It simply pushes us to never take our foot off the gas in an illusory quest to demonstrate performance, which actually tends to make us more inefficient in the long run. A vicious circle.

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