Many workers don’t use their full allotment of vacation days. Here’s why and how to encourage employees to take time off.
Have you been reading all about employee well-being and the importance of work-life balance? Perhaps you’ve been learning about the important role that vacation time plays in the recipe for an engaged and productive workforce. If you have, you’ve almost certainly come away with the conclusion that it’s super important for employees to take vacation.
“Studies show that taking time off work and disconnecting from the workplaces causes an increase in productivity and a greater work-life balance,” explains Norwich University. But the school also categorizes how rare it is for American workers to enjoy the many benefits of taking time off.
In 2015, 55% of Americans didn’t use their full allotment of vacation days. This adds up to 658 million unused vacation days.
If you’ve been trying to get your employees to take time off but nothing seems to work, it might be time to ask yourself if you might (unknowingly) be the problem.
Ways employers may discourage employees from taking time off
There are a handful of common things that employers do that get in the way of their employees taking vacation days. Peruse this list to see if these behaviors sound like you. If they do, consider making some changes outlined below to help your employees actually take time off.
If you do find yourself engaging in some of the behaviors on this list, don’t worry! You’re already doing the best thing that you can do to address the problem. Understanding that there is a problem in the first place is the place to start.
Not leading by example
No matter how much you promote taking time off, it’s going to be difficult for your employees to do it if you don’t lead by example. If you’re always working (or working while “on vacation”), this sets the cultural tone in the office.
One of the best things you can do to encourage your employees to take time off is to do it yourself. Then, you have to truly disconnect from work while you’re away so your workers know it’s OK for them to do the same.
Naturally, all managers and those in leadership positions across departments should follow suit. When just those at the very top are truly taking time off but no one else between them and lower-level employees are, a disconnect can arise.
Not letting vacation days roll over
Some months, quarters, or years are simply different from others. Some time periods require lots of time in the office to get work done while slower times are great for vacation days.
It’s hard for workers to use their vacation days if they expire while also meeting the needs of the business that ebb and flow. This is especially true if the expiration date falls during a busy time for your business.
When this happens, you’re forcing your employees to take time when it’s just going to mean mountains of work for them when they return. The only other alternative is for them to simply not take vacation days at all. And that’s the opposite of what you’re trying to get your employees to do.
Naturally, this might mean setting boundaries around how accumulated vacation time can be spent. It makes sense that businesses might have to discourage someone from saving up 6 months of vacation days and using them all at once.
The goal is to create a sensible policy that encourages employees to actually use their vacation time. It’s most important that they use the time in a way that makes sense for both them and the needs of the business.
If you do need an expiration date, choose it carefully
If you need to put an expiration date on vacation time, make sure the expiration date isn’t arbitrary. Do your best to make sure the expiration date of vacation time falls at a reasonable time.
Expiration dates can inspire employees to use the days they’ve saved up, but only if the expiration date doesn’t fall during a busy time.
A tax preparation business would do well to make sure that the expiration date doesn’t fall during tax time, for example. Instead, if it’s sometime during the summer or fall, that could be a better time to spark the use of vacation days before they’re lost.
Not having an efficient system for handling work while people are on vacation
The whole point of taking time off is to disconnect and not think about work. But that’s going to be very hard to do if you know that there will be a mountain of work waiting for you when you return.
Rather than deal with the weeks of additional work that a vacation would mean, many people will choose to just forgo the vacation altogether. To avoid this, one of the best things leaders and managers can do is develop an effective system for handling people’s work while they’re away.
Of course, not every function of someone’s work can be carried out by someone else. But the more that things can at least be covered while someone is on vacation, the less built-up work they’ll have to return to.
One of the best things leaders and managers can do is develop an effective system for handling people’s work while they’re away.
It happens to be a major bonus that having people oversee the work of others can avoid creating job functions that are only understood by the person doing them. That way, if that person decides to leave, the company won’t spiral in their wake.
Letting employees work while on vacation
There should be a clear expectation that time off is exactly that, time off. If you workers are having to handle work issues while they’re on vacation, that means that you’ve failed to create the system mentioned above.
Of course, every now and then on very rare occasions, it might make sense for someone to do a bit of work while they’re on vacation. It’s critical that this is the exception rather than the rule. Once it becomes the rule, what’s the point of even taking time off if you’re just going to be expected to work anyway?
Asking employees to front-load work before taking time off
Just like a mountain of work piling up while an employee is away can deter them from taking a vacation, so too can requiring additional work before they leave.
No doubt some things have to be planned and prepared for, but be very careful to not overdo it. Make sure any prep work before vacations is minimal or, ideally, nonexistent.
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If you do these things, don’t worry — there’s time to change
If you’ve realized that you’re guilty of doing 1 (or several) of the things on this list, don’t fret. We don’t know what we don’t know! Now that you understand how leadership working all of the time can impact your employees, you’re ready to make some changes.
Even if you’re a founder who can’t quite let go of working every day, at least make it seem like you take vacation. By dipping out of meetings and making it look like you’ve disconnected, you’ll encourage your workers to do the same.
If the issue your company has is effectively handling people’s work while they’re away, this might take some more time to figure out. But rest assured that it’s a very doable thing. Investing in creating a system like this will pay off in the long run. The result will be a happy and engaged workforce that’s adequately rested from taking vacation time.