Employment lawyer urges caution over ‘workation’ policies

Employment lawyer urges caution over ‘workation’ policies

Liam Entwistle

An employment lawyer has urged caution over the growing trend of “workation” policies allowing staff members to work remotely from a location of their choice, away from their home or office.

Liam Entwistle, employment law specialist and chairman at law firm Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie LLP, argues that the perk could have “unintended consequences” by blurring the line between work and private life.

“Those who are in favour say it affords employees greater flexibility by allowing them to work from a location of their choice, which means they can continue to work as normal while enjoying the experience of being in a location away from their home or the office,” he said.

“Some employees may wish to extend a planned trip, and may book accommodation for two weeks rather than one, staying in the location they holiday in for an extra week without sacrificing their annual leave and working remotely during this time.”

But though the idea sounds good “on the surface”, Mr Entwistle said he believes the concept could have downsides as well.

He said: “Technology results in some of us experiencing an ongoing invasion of our downtime outside of working hours in the form of texts, emails and phone calls in relation to work.

“The thin line between home life and work life has become even more blurred over the last 18 months thanks to home working which has become the norm for so many, and I fear the mass introduction of workation policies will simply make this worse.

“There is a reason employees need holidays. It is an opportunity to completely switch off from work, to recharge and relax, which ultimately improves performance for the rest of the year spent at work.

“If an employer chooses to give staff members the chance to spend one week a year working in a location that isn’t home or the office then of course that is absolutely fine, but the term ‘workation’ is misleading. Workation implies some kind of vacation, which in turn implies downtime, but if you’re continuing to work as normal, this is not the case.”

He suggested that workplaces could mitigate the downsides by allowing employees to work from abroad in certain situations – “for example if an employee wants to take an extended trip to visit family who live far away and will be there for a considerable length of time” – but not as a policy across the board.

“Instead, it may be more beneficial for employers to turn their attention to introducing stricter policies around annual leave to ensure their workforce can fully switch off during their holidays”, he suggested.

“Do employees need ‘intermittent access’ to emails when they are on holiday? Instead, consider a robust system to allow your people to get a real break. This could involve encouraging employees to plan ahead, to ensure their work can be handed over for the period of time they will be on holiday, guaranteeing there will be a support network in place during their annual leave so tasks can be picked up, and implementing a stringent policy on out of office messages to make it clear the person is on holiday and will not be contactable until they return.

“In my opinion, helping employees get the most out of their annual leave would be far more beneficial than gimmicks which allow staff members to ‘work from the beach’ for a few days every year.

“Of course flexibility for employees is great, and the ability to work remotely is a huge benefit for lots of people, but it’s essential that we do not allow the distinction between work and home life to be blurred any further than it already is for many employees.”

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