What Exactly Is A "Workation" & What Does It Say About Burnout Culture?
The average American worker gets just 10 days of paid time off annually. The statistic is even more shocking when compared to Europe, where 20 days is the minimum requirement, as stated by the 1990 initiative from the European Union Working Time Directive. Most workers in the United Kingdom now get at least 28 days of paid annual leave, or 5.6 weeks a year.
This lack of paid time off and an increasing ability to work from home since the pandemic has led many Americans to ship off to a new type of vacation. Enter, the workation.
What is a workation?
The term "workation" was coined by remote workers during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic to describe the experience of traveling to a new place but keeping up with your workload while you're there.
A recent survey including over 1,000 U.S. residents shows that 67% of Americans went on some kind of workation in 2022, which isn't necessarily surprising given that 44% of people who could work from home elected to do so in 2022.
In 2023, that percentage of those who opted to work from home reduced to 35%, still a significant difference from just 7% pre-pandemic, according to Pew Research.
The survey notes that 82% of respondents spent their workation in their origin country, while others went abroad. Most respondents noted their workations were between one week and one month, with some outliers staying even longer.
When asked about their reasoning behind the travel, 67% of respondents noted their workation was driven by a need to recharge mental and emotional batteries.
Benefits of a workation
Workations are full of benefits, especially for mental health, says board-certified psychiatrist Raafat Girgis, M.D. "Workation gives us room to refocus. Being outside [our usual work environment] can change our outlook and allow us to become more creative," says Girgis.
These benefits are reflected in the survey as well:
- A full 86% of employees agree or strongly agree a workation boosted their productivity
- 81% of Americans grew more creative at work after taking a workation
- Nearly 69% were less likely to quit after going on workation
- As many as 83% agree/strongly agree a workation helped them cope with burnout
- Roughly 84% were more satisfied with their job after the workation
So it's safe to say that workations certainly have the power to boost your mood should you be out of PTO. However, Girgis warns that workations are certainly no replacement for a true vacation.
The downside of workations & what they say about American burnout culture
It's worth noting that each year, more than half of all working Americans leave some PTO days unused—so workations probably aren't solely being used as a supplemental strategy.
With the influx of workations, we must remember the power of true vacation time and continue advocating for more of it.
The word "burnout" gets tossed around lightly these days, but it can have serious consequences for mental health. The World Health Organization defines burnout1 as "chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed," and research shows that it's a contributing factor to depression and anxiety2. Burnout can also negatively affect your sleep quality3, which harms your overall health in countless ways and can kick off a negative cycle of sleeplessness.
For these reasons, Girgis considers sufficient vacation time an investment in public health. "Otherwise, it is as if we are prisoners and mandated to a schedule that does not allow us to take care of our personal physical and mental health needs," Girgis says.
Just think about it: If a workation can help you be less stressed, boost your creativity, and even convince you not to quit your job, imagine what a true vacation can do.
How to take a proper workation
Moral of the story: Prioritize vacation time, and add in workations as the cherry on top when possible. Not everyone will have the time, financial resources, or ability to pack up and work someplace new for a week. If you do, consider the following tips for making the most out of your mini escape:
- Keep budget in mind: You don't want to drain your bank account for a vacation without vacation time, so keep your workation budget small to save for other trips in the future.
- Plan your work schedule accordingly: Most remote-friendly jobs have some kind of ebb and flow, meaning the difficult and high-stress periods come and go. If possible, schedule your workation during the flow period so you prevent adding more stress to your trip.
- Make evening plans: While you may still need to clock a full workday, you can still explore your new location in the evenings. Of course keep rest in mind, but don't forget that you're still kind of on vacation—do some exploring, meet up with friends, try a new restaurant, etc.
- Stay with friends or family: If you want to save money or fill your workation with the company, consider skipping the hotel and staying with friends or family instead. This is a fairly common workation strategy, one that 43% of survey respondents opted for as well.
- Check accommodations: To prevent unnecessary stress, check the accommodations of the place you stay beforehand. You'll want access to Wi-Fi, outlets for charging, a public workspace to foster a sense of community, etc.
If nothing else, consider workations as one option if your job is remote-friendly—otherwise, lean into weekend getaways, embrace your wind-down routine each evening, and always advocate for the vacation time you need to feel recharged. Here are some more ideas about how to combat stress in your day-to-day.
Workations are growing in popularity in the U.S., likely due to a lack of paid time off and a more flexible work-from-home culture. Workations can help to prevent burnout and support mental health but should not replace real vacations—there is still so much benefit to taking time off. Not sure where to book your next trip? Visit our Well Traveled guidebook for some inspiration.
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty & Health Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including skin care, women’s health, mental health, sustainability, social media trends, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends and innovations, women’s health research, brain health news, and plenty more.