Working on vacation can make you a bad co-worker—here's how to avoid it: ‘It creates more harm than good'

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Americans are pretty bad about unplugging from work while on vacation, and some of the youngest professionals have an especially tough time of it.

Some 35% of Gen Z workers say they feel guilty not working when they're on vacation, versus the 29% U.S. average across age ranges, according to LinkedIn's latest Workforce Confidence Index, based on a survey of 9,461 U.S. professionals this summer.

Gen Z's vacation guilt comes down to a few main factors, including tighter budgets as well as being at the stage of their careers where they're more concerned with impressing their boss, getting along with co-workers and pulling their weight, says George Anders, LinkedIn's senior editor at large.

But working on vacation can send the wrong message to your boss and co-workers.

Working on vacation can make you a bad co-worker

Samm Samujh, 30, is an executive coach based in New York City and felt those pressures early on in her career.

As she explained in one TikTok video, Samujh thought working on vacation would show that she went above and beyond and deserved a promotion, "but actually, the negative impact was that I was showing I had no boundaries, so people would contact me all of the time; it showed I put work above anything and anyone else; it created more work and less balance for me; in a way it showed I had no time management."

She tells CNBC Make It that doing work while she was supposed to be taking paid time off would also create more problems and show a lack of trust, among her team. "If you're telling people you're on vacation for two weeks and ask for coverage, then while you're out you're emailing them, it causes confusion and creates more harm than good," she says.

On the flip side, putting together PTO coverage plans can contribute to a positive team dynamic when people take turns covering knowing it'll pay off when they get a break. "That builds teamwork," Anders says.

Over several experiences, Samujh realized that as guilty as she felt when she wasn't working, pulling out her laptop also made her feel guilty for not spending time with the friends and family she was vacationing with.

"You're supposed to have paid time off, and there's going to be a day when my co-worker is going to need time off and I'm going to support them, so it comes back around," Samujh says.

Now, she tries to not work while on PTO unless it's a true emergency — as in, the company is failing or she would lose her job if she doesn't handle something right away.

Plan ahead to get rid of PTO guilt

Getting rid of that work-related vacation guilt comes down to planning ahead for it, Samujh says.

Have a conversation with your manager ahead of time to cover what needs to be completed before you're out, what can be delegated to other colleagues while you're away, and what can wait until you return.

Samujh says it can be helpful to let your boss know what specifically you're worried about while you're away. That way, if something falls through the cracks at work, your manager can be prepared to address those needs in your absence.

On rare occasion, you might get some pushback on your PTO request, Samujh says. She recalls once asking off for a two-week trip with less than a month's notice when a new incoming manager expected a six-week heads up.

In response, Samujh was asked to create a detailed coverage plan for her time out so the manager could review and approve it. "Once I had coverage, it was OK," she says.

Also prepare for how you'll transition back to work mode after a break — maybe, like Samujh, you like to spend 5 minutes every day on vacation clearing out your inbox and flagging things to address when you return. Or maybe you can block out the morning of your first day back to get up to speed uninterrupted.

Ultimately, letting go of vacation guilt may come down to letting go of your ego. "Sometimes it's just about having humility knowing that while your work is important, it's not as if the organization will grind to a halt when you're not working there," Anders says. "The work will get done."

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