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How to Trip Up the Vacation-Shaming Co-worker

I've been on vacation in the Silicon Valley. Who on earth vacations in a workaholic's paradise, you ask? Good question.

But there I was, sitting pool side in the shade while the luxury Google buses cruised past and the stressed-out, smartphone-wielding business traveler at a nearby table made arrangements for a meeting that seemed to be falling though. Apparently, I need somebody wound up in the background to help me unwind.

Now I'm back, refreshed and sort of ready, trying to remember how this blogging thing works. Getting my mind back into the game is tough, but at least as a solobloggeur I don't have to put up with co-workers who make me feel awful for taking some time off, right? On that note...

Vacation Daze
We've all worked with somebody who makes us feel guilty for going on vacation. The trendy, nom du jour for this workplace phenomenon is "vacation shaming," and the Millennials are very good at it.

When car rental agency Alamo surveyed 1,500 employees last winter, it found that more than four in 10 Millennials surveyed (42%) admitted to making their co-workers feel badly for taking time off. The same people percentage (42%) indicated that they are "at least somewhat serious" in their shaming efforts.

But Gen Xers and Baby Boomers are not exactly in the clear, either, when it comes to guilt tripping a vacationing colleague. This workplace problem spans all generations. So it's not out of the question that you might feel a wee bit guilty for daring to leave the office for a week in Hawaii, or anywhere else more scenic than your immediate work area. Hey, you're already "hotelling" at work, so why not treat yourself to a real hotel once in awhile?

Let's say that you do just that. Now you're striding back into the office post-vacay with a sun-kissed glow and a wide, relaxed smile, only to encounter the vacation-shaming co-worker standing at the front desk. "Nice of you to come back," this co-worker says with a hint of sarcasm and a disapproving side eye. "Last week was so brutal. So busy. I'm still exhausted. You missed an important meeting." Welcome back!

The vacation-shaming co-worker has an overstuffed suitcase full of guilt-tripping commentary. (They never use a suitcase for vacationing, so what else are they supposed to do with it?) This co-worker can unpack a verbal punch, too. Here are a few zingers you might have heard over the years (bonus points will be awarded if you've heard more than one of the following lines):

"It must be nice to be able to leave for so long."
"I swear, it seems like you're always going on a vacation."
"You're lucky that you can afford to take any time off."
"I prefer to save up my vacation days instead. I never use them."
"I just don't see the point in taking a vacation, really."
"I love my job too much to take a day off."
"I'd feel bad making anyone cover for me while I'm gone on vacation."
"I once worked with a guy who got laid off after he took a vacation, so I never take one anymore. Why risk it?"

Yikes. On the flip side, the vacation-shaming co-worker might be determined never to inquire about your vacation. You're starting to wonder if your vacation really happened as you switch from vacation mode to vocation mode in 60 seconds flat. "I'm going to need this by 3 p.m. today," this co-worker says tersely before walking back to their work area without asking anything about your vacation. Nice to see you again, too?

What is going on with our vacation-shaming co-workers? Are they simply jealous that somebody dared to take time off, or is it something more? Has the last decade really taken that big a toll on our vacation verve? Do these co-workers not realize how quickly life passes, and how essential an annual vacation is to our mind, soul and personal productivity levels?

Do the Millennials not understand that Generation Z will lay them all off by age 50 anyway, so they might as well work in a vacation here and there? Are boring work from home days staycations all we have left to look forward to?!

How to React to a Co-worker's Guilt Trip
Well, don't ask me; I've been on vacation! What we need to do RIGHT NOW is to figure out how to respond to the co-workers who lurk in the workplace year-round -- whether it's July or January -- just waiting to guilt trip anyone who actually uses their vacation days! Here are five tips for responding to the vacation-shaming co-worker:

1. Never apologize. You took your employer-approved week off, so why are you saying things like, "Yeah, now I feel bad that I took last week off, but..." as soon as you return to work? Saying "I'm sorry" isn't adding to your post-vacation glow, quite frankly. Own your vacation time. You work hard all year and you deserve it. Really! If anyone tries to make you feel badly for going on vacation, compliment them for doing such a great job in your absence. Turn every negative they say into a positive that reflects back on them and the entire office. You. Guys. Are. Awesome.

2. Talk about how you feel, not where you went. You might feel like you're going against the grain if your workplace isn't very vacation-friendly. Instead of volunteering the details of your vacation, focus on the positives of how the vacation has made you feel. More relaxed. More focused. More centered. More in-tune with family. More well-rested. More energetic. More able to come up with new ideas. You get the idea. Make it your job to tout the quite-but-positive effects of taking time off to co-workers who still need to be sold on it. Come on in, the water is warm!

3. Never let them see you sweat. How you respond to the vacation-shaming co-worker is important, because this co-worker wants to put you on the defensive. When this co-worker says, "I'd been bad making anyone cover for me while I'm on vacation," turn it around to thank them for covering for you while you were on vacation. They did a great job! When this co-worker says, "It must be nice to be able to leave for so long," you might jokingly say, "It's fun, you ought to try it some time." Game, set, match.

4. Show, don't tell. Show your vacation-averse co-worker what a vacation can do by accomplishing something AWESOME the first few days back on the job. Land a new client, re-edit a report to make it even better than it was before you left, be even more on top of everything -- anything that will wow your workplace audience and make them quietly question whether they'd benefit from some vacation days, too. You were gone, but now you're back in a big way!

5. Set a good example. You, my friend, are one of the brave employees who actually used your allotted vacation time. That's an act of bravery in our weary, modern work world. Hold your head high, and marvel at the bounce in your step and the improvement in your productivity levels. You are setting a good, healthy example for every workaholic in the office. Another tip: act how you would wish your co-workers to act upon their return from vacation.

Finally -- to reiterate Tip #3 -- make sure to thank this colleague (and everyone else) for taking care of any loose ends in your absence -- even if you did the same for someone months ago when they took a vacation. We can all appreciate a proper thank you uttered in person. You might do something thoughtful for your over-worked colleagues, such as sharing some candies or small gifts you bought on vacation. Whatever you do, never tell them they missed a beautiful sunset on the beach because they weren't there with you.


  1. Most of my coworkers believe in taking time off. Use it or lose it is the policy, so you are foolish to not take the paid time off.
    The problem is when some people seem to take more time off than others through "comp time."

    1. It's good you work in an office full of employees who believe in taking time off. That's a good thing, especially these days. Thanks for commenting, Enid!

  2. These people actually exist? Why?!

  3. This article is so good, so well structured and easy to read, in fact you
    should be writing things like this, i love travel and i love your blog.


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