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NerdWallet: On ‘hush trips,’ employees sneak off to vacation spots to work remotely. Is that so bad?

This article is reprinted by permission from NerdWallet

Emily Smith was working two jobs — at a hotel and at a retail store — when she realized she was in dire need of a break. Smith, based in Vancouver, B.C., says her employers didn’t usually approve of her vacation days, so she invented a fake family emergency, claiming she’d need to work from home. Instead, she went to Las Vegas.

“I took meetings poolside, and I timed my flights to happen outside working hours,” she says. “All my work was completed in a timely manner so neither of my bosses ever asked.”

That was back in 2012, when most jobs demanded an in-person presence. About 10 years later, more people are working remotely — or poolside, like Smith. According to U.S. Census Bureau data released in 2022, more than 27.6 million people worked primarily from home in 2021. That’s triple the number of people working from home in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even with the rise of remote work, some workers are hesitant or don’t feel the need to tell their employers when they plan to work from another location outside of their home. That’s why they’ve started taking “hush trips,” where employees work from a vacation destination without revealing their true whereabouts to their boss. Often, these workers will take advantage of leisure activities in their off hours, combining work and play into one trip.

Recreational vehicle rental website RVshare commissioned a survey, conducted by Wakefield Research, about hush trips and other travel trends in September 2022. According to the survey, 56% of working American adults said they are “very” or “extremely” likely to partake in a hush trip. And 36% of Generation X and millennials claim to already have one planned for 2023.

Check out: It’s one of the latest trends in camping — why drive an RV when you can have it delivered?

For those with employers who are stingy about vacation days, hush trips can provide rejuvenation. However, some employers disapprove of the secrecy and don’t want workers anywhere besides their home office, period. But does it even matter if workers share their whereabouts?

Problems that can accompany hush trips

Amy Marcum, a human resource manager with HR service provider Insperity, warns that hush trips can cause friction if word gets out.

“Some employees may feel that their colleagues are taking advantage of the generous work-from-home policies, leading to conflicts,” she says.

Executive coach Robin Pou points to another negative consequence: the breakdown of trust between employees and managers.

“The leader always finds out, driving them to wonder why the employee was trying to hide something in the first place,” he says. “This erosion of trust can be a cancer to team dynamics.”

Lisa M. Sanchez, a human resources executive at ArtCenter College of Design, says she’s not convinced employees are effective while on hush trips. 

“Who’s motivated to work when there’s a turquoise beach and a fruity drink waiting for them?” Sanchez says. “What does one do if they are called into an impromptu emergency meeting and they are in flight?”

Then there are also security concerns around bringing employer-issued computers out of town or logging onto unknown Wi-Fi networks. Plus, there could be unexpected tax implications for employers if workers are working from another state or country too long.

You might like: This style of travel is growing more popular among the 50-plus set, and it can offer a richer, more relaxing experience

Why hush trips aren’t necessarily a bad thing

The whole premise of a hush trip might help expose problems in the workplace to begin with.

“Leaders need to look themselves in the mirror and wonder what type of environment they’ve created where their team member doesn’t feel comfortable having conversations directly with them,” Pou says.

Business and leadership coach Mariela De La Mora says the need to know where employees are at all times is “unnecessary at best, patronizing at worst.” She says some of her best coworkers were permanent digital nomads.

“Remote work only fueled their productivity and dedication to their role,” she says. “This is especially important when you employ Gen Z and younger millennials who value and expect freedom in their roles — and who won’t as easily abide by policies that feel antiquated.”

Also see: How the new trend of pay transparency could impact your bargaining power or job hunt

How employers can better support employees who want to travel

Whether pro- or anti-hush trips, there’s one thing pretty much everyone agrees on: Time off is important.

“A change in location can spark new ideas, increase productivity, improve morale, lead to higher-quality work and improve work-life balance,” Marcum says.

Sanchez says employers should create clear opportunities for employees to rest. 

“Do not unreasonably deny time off, do not create a 24/7 on-the-clock grind, and avoid engaging employees after work hours,” she says.

As for Smith, she’s since quit those two jobs, and she’s now her own boss. She runs a travel planning company called The Female Abroad. But she says even if she had to report to someone else, she’s pro-hush trips.

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Sally French writes for NerdWallet. Email: sfrench@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @SAFmedia.

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