Hide-and-Seek in the Work-From_Anywhere Era: The Rise of Hush Holidays

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Woman on grass
4 min read

JOHANNESBURG – Fasten your seat belts as the ‘work from anywhere’ era steps on the gas. In the fast lane of this new age, hush holidays are cruising in, a silent phenomenon stirring duty of care considerations into a tricky maze that has organisations reaching for their strategy maps.

In the remodelled workforce landscape painted by Gartner’s 2023 report, flexibility, purpose, well-being, and culture are the cardinal points. Flexibility isn’t merely a shiny perk – it’s the cornerstone for more than half of today’s workforce.

While some corporate stalwarts like META rally for office returns, the hybrid model, with its flexibility flag flying high, is continuing to gain momentum. This evolution is driven by a youthful workforce keen to seize control of their careers, well-being, and work-life balance. The message to companies hunting for talent is loud and clear: board the flexibility train or risk getting left in the dust.

Although ‘bleisure’ has been around for a while, a new more sneaky ‘bleisure’ trend is popping up under the name ‘hush trips’. The term ‘hush trip’ is courtesy of Glassdoor. Jill Cotton, a career trends expert at Glassdoor, defines it as an employee working remotely in a location different from where their employer thinks they are. The company may promote flexible work, but here, the worker is actively cloaking their location or pretending to be somewhere else.

The hush holiday trend is gaining speed overseas. Over half of Brits set to embark on such a journey in 2023, says the Evening Standard. On the other side of the pond, nearly 10% of American workers have already dipped their toes in these hush holiday waters, according to CNBC Travel.

“These covert workations enable employees to mix up their environment without digging into their precious paid leave. But, this strategy isn’t without pitfalls. The rise of hush holidays is throwing a complex gauntlet of visa regulations, insurance entanglements, data security issues, and duty of care obligations at companies,” says Bonnie Smith, GM at Corporate Traveller.

Smith elaborates, “In some cases, it’s feasible for employees to work remotely from other countries, but they need to check all the right boxes – appropriate visa, social security status, and adhering to the relevant tax and other laws.”

Similarly, Smith highlights the importance of understanding the employment jurisdiction that applies and the need to abide by all pertinent laws. A little-known fact is that an employee working abroad, even briefly, can acquire protection under the local employment rights – known as mandatory laws – in relation to holiday, minimum pay, and termination. As the employment laws in Europe, for example, are very different to those in South Africa, this could lead to challenges.

An employer’s duty of care also doesn’t clock out when an employee works abroad, making it crucial for companies to approve an employee’s location. “This involves assessing and mitigating any risks to the employee’s health, safety, security associated with their location, accommodation, travel, and workload,” Smith explains. It also brings data security implications into play.

“While working abroad may sound like a smart solution for busy workers with limited annual leave, the lure of a total disconnect from work and an actual holiday can’t be discounted. Given that professional burnout and stress are hitting the roof, and with a survey of 20,000 professionals revealing that 54% can’t fully switch off during paid leave, a working holiday might just add to the pressure,” Smith adds.

So, where does this leave employees in South Africa? In South Africa, in spite of load shedding and connectivity challenges, the hybrid work model is slowly gaining traction, particularly among top earners. But instead of opting for hush trips, Smith suggests transparency instead.

“If employees disclose their remote locations, there’s scope to discuss responsibilities, and duty of care challenges can be tackled upfront. If employees opt for hush holidays, companies could unwittingly be left carrying the can for duty of care liabilities, which could make for tricky situations,” she says.

As we plot a course through the unchartered territory of the hybrid work era, it’s high time for companies to strengthen their foundations. Compliance rules, a robust travel policy is a must-have, and offering flexibility within a clear framework is essential, according to Smith. The aim should be to foster a culture where employees feel comfortable enough to disclose their work locations, nipping the hush holiday trend in the bud.

For more information about Corporate Traveller, or to interview Corporate Traveller South Africa GM Bonnie Smith, call Dorine Reinstein on 083 278 8994 or email dorine@bigambitions.co.za