‘Quiet vacations’ are the latest way millennials rebel against in-person work

Employees better make sure their Zoom backgrounds are blurry enough — the secret to the “quiet vacation” is now out. Employees, particularly millennials, are pushing the boundaries of remote work, according to a new report. Instead of telling their bosses they’re taking time off, workers are playing hooky or going on vacation under the guise of working remotely.

According to The Harris Poll’s Out-of-Office Culture Report from May, which surveyed 1,170 employed adults in the U.S., 37% of millennial workers said they took time off without notifying their supervisors or managers.

“They will figure out how to achieve a proper work-life balance, but this is happening behind the scenes,” Libby Rodney, chief strategy officer at The Harris Poll, told CNBC. “It’s not exactly a quiet quit, but more of a quiet vacation.”

Millennials, who make up nearly 40% of the workforce, have gone to great lengths to give their bosses the impression that they are still working, according to the Harris Poll report. Nearly 40% reported moving their computer mouse to make it appear they were active online, and many said they sent emails after hours to create the illusion that they were working overtime.

“Instead of going head-to-head and worrying about whether they’ll give their boss a hard time during a tough economic quarter, millennials are simply doing what they have to do to take their vacation,” Rodney said. Fortune.

But the cost of not being upset is the baggage of guilt and stress for many of these workers. The Harris Poll report indicates that most employees are happy with the amount of paid time off they are allotted, suggesting that the desire for a leisurely vacation is not a matter of policy, but rather cultural. Nearly half of respondents, including 61% of millennials and 58% of Generation Z, said they felt nervous about requesting time off. Feeling pressure to always respond to work queries and guilt about leaving excess work to colleagues were some of the main reasons.

Rodney noted that the desire for a quiet vacation ultimately highlights a new form of worker anxiety that has emerged in the wake of the pandemic. There is a chasm between the company culture that young workers want and the one that their older managers continue to impose.

“It’s definitely not a healthy system, but it’s a system that’s happening with the American worker right now,” he said.

A divided workplace

Despite four years having passed since the start of the pandemic, CEOs have remained steadfast in their disagreement over remote work, feeling a loss of control over employee supervision and, subsequently, a loss of status as bosses. . Last October, 62% of CEOs were adamant that all workers return to the office by 2026, a lofty goal that has since failed. Meanwhile, 90% of office workers surveyed the same month said they were not interested in returning to pre-COVID work culture, according to a Gallup poll.

According to a June 2023 survey from employee insights firm Perceptyx, employees find their bosses’ behavior toxic, with 46% of employees proclaiming that their worst boss is “incompetent” or “unsupportive.” which sows even more seeds of dissent among workers. The division in the workplace has led to an unequal culture in which workers internalize the value of work-life balance instilled by the pandemic, while companies attempted to maintain the status quo.

“The culture in the office has not changed, even though our values ​​and those of American workers have changed,” Rodney said. “The experience and expectations are almost as if the pandemic never happened.”

Rodney sympathizes with companies stuck in old ways. In times of economic stress, there is a tendency to return to previous norms. For employers, this means CEOs imposing old-guard business practices, such as having employees work in person and discouraging time off, because it’s a model that has worked in the past.

But changes are happening to adapt to the next generation of workers who demand flexibility: most companies, even with traditional work values, have given in to hybrid working, and employee attitudes are changing too. For the first time since the pandemic, Americans prefer hybrid work to remote work, a change that is not the result of free company pizzas, but rather an adjustment to new norms.

There are good incentives for companies to continue adapting. Generation Z is expected to outnumber their baby boomer counterparts in the workforce this year, leaving companies with no choice but to give in to their changing demands.

“There will likely be another talent war, where companies that prioritize Generation Z and millennials, and put work-life balance first, will be the signals of what will attract the next talent on the market” Rodney said. saying.

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