Don't Let Bad "Workations" Hijack Your Work-Life Balance

It can be fun to mash terms together. "Jazzercise" and "Sharknado" and "bromance," for instance, never really hurt anyone. But there are some situations when the blurring of distinct terms can cause real damage – especially when the distance between said terms might be in direct proportion to one's health and sanity. 

I'm speaking specifically of the blurred lines of "workations," and of the harsh realities of modern American work life that have coaxed this term into being. It's a complicated term to its core, and a fairly divisive one – partly because of its relationship to actual vacations, and partly because there are actually good and bad manifestations of this term. Simply put, it's annoyingly complex. It's annoyaplex, if you will. 



Before we get to its practical application, let's look at the term itself. "Workation," obviously is a mash-up of "work" and "vacation." It doesn't take a behavioral psychologist to see the issues this stirs up. First and foremost is the slow disappearance of the vacation altogether, and the obvious collateral impact of replacing dedicated leisure with more work. That said, for better or for worse the term is here, and it's likely here to stay. So perhaps the most constructive approach to reconciling with this fact is an attempt at separating "good workations" from "bad workations." 

In September 2016, the travel website conducted a widespread survey asking Americans about their vacation day usage in the summer of 2016. In a hopeful glimmer, 33.5% of respondents said that they took either one or two weeks of vacation that summer. Unfortunately 48.4% said that they'd taken either no vacation (37.4%) or only 1-3 days (11%). The same poll was conducted the two years prior with very similar results – in each case, roughly 50% of respondents took zero to three vacation days, heavy on the zero.

Throughout the year, this tendency to forgo PTO adds up to an astronomical annual figure. In 2016, American workers left 658 million paid vacation days on the table. This particular number is not atypical. But if you're an American worker, this figure also probably comes as no surprise. In a capitalist society founded on a capital-"D" Dream of outworking your neighbor and moving up the ladder, we're encultured to work ourselves to the bone. And with a high percentage of "at will" employees in the American private sector, the appearance of uninterrupted commitment to the company is something many workers don't want to mess with. We want to make sure we're secure on a sturdy part of the corporate ladder: Johnson's working late, so I'd better, too. What, Johnson's not taking his PTO? Cancel the cruise, honey! American offices are, unfortunately, full of Johnsons.

Though individuals must, of course, take personal responsibility for one's own health and happiness, it's hard to fight the system we're operating in and the values it's codified. The United States in the only advanced economy in the world that does not mandate paid vacation time. The only one. When you widen the lens to include all nations, the United States is one of just thirteen in the world that does not guarantee vacation. Most European nations set the bar at four weeks, and even workaholic Japan guarantees ten days. And many American companies are more than happy to apply this advantage: tens of millions of American private sector workers – roughly one quarter of them – have no paid vacation time.

And all this – surprise – funnels Americans from all types of work situations into the wrong kind of workations. 



As noted, Americans leave a disturbing number of vacation days on the table. And yet 95% of Americans still claim to value paid time off. The grey area between these facts is the breeding ground for the wrong kind of workations. 

The wrong kind is workation is one that interrupts or replaces your vacation. It might be a "good" workation (more on those in a minute) that is not complemented by actual time off. Or it might be something that looks like a vacation but doesn't involve unplugging or disconnecting from your job – thus, you're neither fully at work or fully at play, the worst of both worlds. In short, in either case you have work in vacation's clothing.

Why are these scenarios problematic? Because they don't offer the benefits (downtime, relaxation, de-stressing etc.) of an actual vacation. And that comes with a profoundly negative impact. Because vacations matter. Numerous studies show overwork causes stress – and stress opens the door to a whole range of maladies, including heart disease, diabetes, substance abuse, depression, anxiety, and sleep problems. For starters.

And what's bad for the worker is often bad for the company. The results of the above afflictions can be missed work, higher turnover, and rising health care premiums. Plus, a study by Stanford economist John Pencavel found that after roughly 49 hours per week, productivity declines for the typical worker, anyway. When you couple all this with the bundle of studies correlating happiness to higher workplace productivity, the value of genuine, work-free rest and relaxation comes into sharp and undeniable focus.



There is a lot of good in some iterations of the workation trend, as long as its manifestation is not a substitute for an actual vacation. At Branches, we have no illusions about what we are and want to be. We offer a new way to work that prioritizes wellness and situates the work experience within a refreshing and reinvigorating natural setting. We offer a means for companies to raise morale, attract and retain great employees, shape an exceptional work experience grounded in work/life balance, and prioritize worker well-being. But we're not a vacation. We're the good kind of workation (since that term is the nomenclature we're bound to, for better or for worse).

Branches locations combine the design and technology of an activity-based office with a next-generation wellness retreat. Each dynamic location features both quiet and social workspaces (fully tech-enabled), accommodations, and access to a wide variety of outdoor and indoor activities. Innovative on-site fitness and wellness amenities complement hiking, fly fishing, swimming, and tennis, as well as cultural and culinary discovery opportunities. We offer workshops on meditation, nutrition, and other holistic strategies for maximizing mindfulness and achieving one's best and most productive self. All as a benefit of your job – not in place of the time off you've earned.

And, of course, for miles in every direction you'll also find the renewing elements of the natural world, all just two hours from the urban din and bustle of the New York metro area. It's a new and better way to work that prioritizes wellness – but it's not a vacation.



Be well at work! And let us help. We too often take it for granted, but the natural world can offer untold benefits for body mind, and spirit. These are benefits that too few organizations are utilizing in order to fuse productivity with personal renewal. Full company retreats at Branches – or visits by individual employees or small teams – will reinforce your company’s focus on work-life design, wellness, and exceptional employee experience.

If you're interested in increasing productivity while uplifting your current employees and attracting your top recruits, it's time we talked. Head to to learn more or reach out to us directly at or (833) 247-2642. 

Now, go take a real vacation!

Stephen SanchezComment