The 2020 COVID pandemic reshaped many facets of our lives, including how we work. With enforced quarantine restrictions came more opportunities to work from home, many of which stayed in place long after the regulations eased up.

This shift in workplace culture and rise of remote work has gifted many pros to the common employee, though it’s also birthed new phenomenons, including stealth PTO (Paid Time Off). This refers to employees taking time off work without formally notifying their employers. Instead, they manage their absences informally, blending their personal time with work hours in a way that goes unnoticed.

Let’s explore exactly what stealth PTO is, its impact on businesses, and what its growing popularity among employees says about our workplace culture in America.

What Is Stealth PTO?

Stealth PTO refers to the practice in which employees take unofficial time off by leveraging flexible work arrangements, like working remotely. Unlike traditional PTO, which is documented and approved through systems like HR, stealth PTO is characterized by being unofficial and often concealed. Employees might take a few hours or even a day off without explicitly informing their supervisors, trusting that their absence will go unnoticed.

This trend is similar to the rise of hush vacations (or quiet vacationing,) though they have nuanced differences in their application. While both refer to unreported time off, with quiet vacationing, you can do a certain amount of work on vacation while feigning full availability. With stealth PTO, employees aren’t working, yet setting their devices online. Stealth PTO typically results in short-term absences, from a few hours to a day, while hush vacations are much longer absences, usually several days to a week or more.

While their variations make them different, they’re both indicative of some faults within the employment system.

Why Employees Are Opting For Stealth PTO

From declining mental health to the ease of reclaiming your time, there are several factors that attribute to employees taking stealth PTO.

Employee Burnout

The modern work environment is characterized by high demands and constant availability, which has in turn led to increased levels of burnout and stress. Many may resort to stealth PTO simply as a way to recharge without going through the formalities of requesting time off, which can be both stigmatized and burdensome.

Lack Of Trust In Management

While some workplaces offer unlimited PTO, that doesn’t always mean employees feel comfortable enough to take it. There is currently a countrywide lack of trust between employees and management, especially regarding the approval of PTO requests. Employees might fear that taking official time off could be viewed negatively and impact their career progression. Stealth PTO allows them to take necessary breathers without risking their company standing.

Technological Enablement

Simply put, it’s easy! Advances in technology, particularly the evolution of remote work tools, have made it easier for employees to manage their workloads flexibly. They can stay connected and complete tasks from anywhere, making it easy to blend work and personal time in an undetectable manner.

How Stealth PTO Affects Businesses

As one would assume, the rise of stealth PTO has both positive and negative implications for businesses. Some of those positive implications include boosted employee morale, as stealth PTO can discreetly improve job satisfaction and reduce turnover rates. Beyond that, employees feeling rested and refreshed will demonstrate boosted productivity upon their full-time return to work.

However, the cons are certainly worth noting as well. Employees who strictly adhere to formal PTO policies may perceive stealth PTO as unfair, leading to resentment within the workplace. Plus, without formal documentation, tracking employee productivity becomes challenging, which can lead to discrepancies in output and accountability. This, in turn, could disrupt workflow and project timelines if those practicing stealth PTO don’t manage their work intentionally.

How To Address Stealth PTO

Ultimately, stealth PTO reflects a bigger issue within workplace dynamics and employee/management relationships. The fact that employees feel they need to conceal their need for rest highlights the need for businesses to prioritize employee well-being.

By addressing the underlying reasons for stealth PTO through initiatives that promote open dialogue and work-life balance, flexible PTO policies like partial days off and mental health days, and fostering a culture of trust and transparency, companies can create a more supportive and productive environment that meets everyone’s needs.