3 Ways to Fight Back Against Vacation Shaming Co-Workers

If your company’s promise of unlimited vacation seems too good to be true, your gut instincts might be right: Surveys reveal that employees at companies with unlimited vacation are actually taking less time off due to workaholic cultures and “vacation shaming.”

“Vacation shaming” is a term used to describe work environments where co-workers and bosses use peer pressure and guilt trips to discourage employees from taking time off.

If you want to get away—and not feel guilty about it—here are three ways to fight back against vacation-shaming co-workers. 

Make a Compelling Case for Cultural Change

If you want to combat “shamers” and the notion that working long hours is a badge of honor, be as candid and vocal as possible regarding the negative effects of overwork, explained Victor Lipman, president of Howling Wolf Management Training and author of “The Type B Manager: Leading Successfully in a Type A World.”

Use education as a way to incite change by showing how the team’s shaming practices are actually counterproductive and harmful. For example, circulating data that illustrates how long hours and stress contribute to burnout, dissatisfaction, poor work quality and turnover may heighten awareness.

There’s no doubt that bucking cultural norms can prove a risky proposition, especially when you’re fighting battles alone, Lipman conceded. To avoid going head-to-head with colleagues, try winning your boss’s approval first. Having her support will make it a lot easier to rebuff a teammate’s attempts at inducing guilt.

Propose Solutions

Giving employees larger workloads can encourage vacation shaming, especially if they feel overburdened.

The good news is that the end of the year is the perfect time to propose new strategies for handling staff vacations. For instance, try advocating for scheduling vacations for the whole year as early as possible (January or February is always a good time). That way, absences can be factored into the capacity estimates, delivery schedules and deadlines for the next 12 months. Alternatively, suggest coverage options for vacationing pros, such as the use of shadow staff or buddy systems.

Since there’s evidence that long work hours produce diminishing returns, suggest that performance benchmarking, recognition and promotions focus on a measurement set that includes productivity, quality, efficiency and customer satisfaction. Here’s an example of how one CEO managed to shift his team’s focus from “clock to contribution.”

Take a Stand

Don’t apologize or capitulate to co-workers who try to make you feel guilty for taking some well-deserved time off. If you honestly feel that you have done enough to support your team and their efforts, ignore their guilt-tripping comments and set a firm boundary, advised James Pratt, VP of People Development for Gravity Payments.

“Simply explain that because you’ve worked hard, you now need a break,” he said. “Make it clear that you intend to unplug and take your vacation.”

If taking a hard stand doesn’t feel possible, or you worry that completely disconnecting for a week or two may put your job at risk, set a soft boundary by stating the specific conditions or emergency situations when you may be contacted and how you can be reached.

For instance, you may want to be notified if your colleagues uncover a significant data breach, leak or hack while you’re away. But to avoid being pestered with trivial questions, create a plan that specifies who will handle your day-to-day tasks and project duties while you’re out, and don’t respond to routine calls or emails.

“Knowing your limits and setting boundaries at work is important to your health and well-being,” Pratt noted. “If all else fails, you may have to step away from an unhealthy environment.”