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COVID-19 has accelerated the rise of the dreaded "workcation"

The pandemic has popularized "workcations" — going on a vacation, but working while there.

Why it matters: Just because work-from-anywhere means we can work on vacation doesn't mean we should. Experts warn that the pandemic's upending of work-life balance could drastically worsen burnout in the U.S.

What's happening: 74% of Americans who are working from home said they’d consider taking a workcation, per Harris Poll data reported by Axios.

"The kind of work that more and more people do doesn’t fit neatly into time and place," says Michael Leiter, a professor of psychology at Acadia University. "It’s not like you stop thinking about it when the clock hits 5pm."

  • Pandemic-era remote work has only accelerated the uncoupling of work from time and location, and that means the line between working and not working is increasingly blurry.
  • And when work can happen anytime and anywhere, boundaries aren't automatically set. "You have to make that happen," Leiter says.

The big picture: Americans have always underused vacation days, and we're working even longer days during the pandemic.

  • American workers also work 50% more than those in Germany, France and Italy, per a National Bureau of Economic Research paper. But "there's no sign that the U.S. is more productive because of that," Leiter says. "It’s not doing us any good to work all the time."
  • In fact, Stanford researchers found that workplace stress costs the U.S. around $190 billion a year.

It's not just on individual workers to prioritize vacations, experts say. Companies and managers need to encourage their employees to unplug — especially during times of economic strife like the pandemic, when workers may be worried about job security and are reluctant to take time off.

  • Strategies include implementing company-wide days off and encouraging workers to take time off for mental health even if they don't have trips planned, Sabina Nawaz, a CEO coach and consultant, writes in the Harvard Business Review.
  • "It starts at the top," says Darren Murph, head of remote work at GitLab, the world's largest all-remote company. "GitLab executives visibly take time off and will share in public channels. Disconnecting from work has to be celebrated at the highest level to set the tone for everyone else in the organization to recognize that recharging is supported and encouraged."

The bottom line: Vacations enrich your potential to contribute at work, Leiter says. When you stop thinking about work, "it just opens your mind in a whole different way. That distancing is part of how you recover your energy."

  • You can't reap any of those benefits on a workcation.

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