Work culture in the US consists of routinely long hours and nearly mimics hustle culture which prioritizes securing the bag over all else. So, it’s understandable when employees want time off from work. From countless double shifts to working in environments that are chronically short-staffed, US work culture can use an overhaul. 

However, there are countless memes dedicated to highlighting how difficult it can be for employees to take advantage of paid time off (PTO), regardless of whether it’s paid or unpaid or the promoted generosity of that PTO policy when a person was hired. From blackout dates to refusals because of overlapping out-of-office scheduling, there are an endless number of excuses managers give to block vacations. 

But these days, managers are at a disadvantage now that many people work remotely or in hybrid environments. And now, many employees are taking advantage of this newfound flexibility. While the concept isn’t exactly new, the phrase “hush vacations” is taking over HR and employment circles both online and in real life. So, what are hush vacations, should employees exercise this unofficial right and what are the consequences they might face?

What Are Hush Vacations?

A hush vacation, however, is when an employee takes a vacation without informing management or officially requesting time off. The simplest way to understand hush vacations would be that they’re opposite of quiet quitting. Quiet quitting refers to people who didn’t actually quit their job, but simply no longer went above and beyond for a position that didn’t reward their achievements. Instead, they simply performed the task they were hired to complete during official office hours — nothing more. 

Hush vacations aren’t a new phenomenon, but employers and HR departments in particular can thank COVID-19 for mainstreaming the concept. 

The pandemic forced many businesses to shutter offices and move their workforce to work remotely, and the results were overwhelmingly positive with most businesses maintaining or exceeding pre-pandemic productivity levels and goals. This was initially done as a public health initiative, yet highlighted something that people had been saying for decades: working in an office for 40 hours a week isn’t actually necessary. 

How Hush Vacation Culture Arose

During the pandemic, many employees moved further away from company headquarters in favor of more open space, a cheaper cost of living and a better quality of life. They also experienced greater autonomy as managers accepted that it was unnecessary to constantly stand watch over employees in order to achieve results. But, it also spawned an unexpected drawback from an HR perspective. 

Remote employees realized that as long as they completed their work on time — and correctly — that they could literally be anywhere in the world. Coupled with fewer check-ins and more scheduling freedom, many employees discovered that they could take vacations without formally submitting a time off request. 

The Complications Of Hush Vacations

In theory, if a person can get their work done from anywhere in the world, it initially makes sense that they shouldn’t have to submit a formal request to HR. However, there are caveats where this might not make sense. 

Complications For The Employee

For example, a person that works in a more collaborative work environment that routinely holds video calls to manage projects may find that a sneak vacation is going to be difficult to achieve. Similarly, if travel plans require shifting into a time zone that’s significantly ahead or behind an employee’s documented time zone, this can create problems. Deadlines might be missed or ensuring that conference calls don’t get missed may become trickier. 

Likewise, some hybrid work schedules don’t offer enough flexibility for an employee to sneak off for a few days if that intended vacation time overlaps with days they should be present in the office. 

Complications For HR Or The Employer

Things get trickier when hush vacations are viewed through the lens of an employer or HR department that must take employment regulations and law into account. In particular, factors such as wages and hours are the top issues that might cause an employer or manager to look unfavorably at an employee’s hush vacation. 

While this might not be major for a short trip that only lasts two or three days, the conversation gets difficult when an employee decides to take a secret sabbatical while still working and earning a wage. Once an employee leaves their official place of residence, everything from overtime requirements to wage tax guidelines can change significantly — even when traveling within the US. Not all employers meet the state or federal guidelines to manage staff in international locations or even when they cross state lines. 

Security Complications

These days, data security is a critical factor that impacts every business regardless of the industry sector or workforce size. Depending on the company and how access is managed, employees may be required to log into sensitive systems or use company equipment. 

If an employee is working over a free public WiFi network, that data security may be compromised. From opening up the possibility of viruses or cyber attacks, there’s also the risk of costly data leaks that may create lost revenue and a damaged reputation. 

Impacting Workplace Morale

Nothing happens in a silo, including in a workplace environment — even a hybrid or remote one. The employees that are required to come into the office (even just a few days a week) may begin to resent the individuals that routinely take time off to travel across the country or around the world. 

Over time, this can create conflict that impacts morale and overall productivity. It may also send good employees hunting for a new role because of growing dissatisfaction. However, some experts suggest that if employees are regularly sneaking off for a vacation (even if they still deliver solid work), it’s a sign that the office culture is not conducive but is instead antiquated. This is especially true now that the workforce is increasingly dominated by Gen Z and Millennial employees that value freedom and autonomy. 

Can Employees Get Fired For Taking Hush Vacations?

Of course, every workplace is different. But for some companies, failing to provide notice and receive approval for time off is a fireable offense. Similarly, taking an unauthorized trip and then being called into the office for a meeting the next day — and being unable to do so — may get a person fired for failing to do their job. 

While all of the above is true, employers also need to recognize when restrictive PTO policies and an unhealthy office environment that’s essentially white collar hustle culture and endless grinding aren’t going to yield long-term employees or attract top talent. 

Are Hush Vacations The Right Move?

Ultimately, individuals will need to decide for themselves whether attempting a hush vacation is feasible and if they’re okay with the ramifications should they get caught. However, for people in truly remote roles or flexible hybrid positions, a hush vacation may be just what they need to recharge and return to their roles ready to give 100%.