Benefits, Compensation, HR Policies & Procedures, Strategic HR

Do You Encourage Employees to Use Up Vacation Time?

While it is not legally mandated for companies in the United States to provide vacation time for employees, many organizations still choose to do so. Yet, the statistics seem to show that U.S. employees rarely take all of the vacation time employers have promised, despite the fact that the average number of days provided is below that of other industrialized nations.

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Some people cite difficulties in scheduling vacation as the reason employees don’t take time away. For example, an organization may not allow an absence of 2 full weeks, making it hard to use up vacation days, especially if those days have rolled over from one year to the next and have begun to significantly accumulate. Some organizations have blackout periods in which no vacation can be taken, which means that employees will have to take any vacation at other times in the year, so there is a greater likelihood of overlap with others in the department, and not everyone will get their pick of days.

And, there are still other reasons employees cite when asked why they have unused days on the table:

  • Some say they fear coming back to an extreme workload, the stress of which seems to negate the vacation.
  • Some say the work culture is such that they fear they will be overlooked for promotions or raises if they’re seen taking their vacation. In other words, they feel that taking advantage of the benefit will actually be detrimental to their careers.
  • Others say that even if there’s no penalty for taking vacation, they feel they would appear to be less loyal or committed to their job if they take time away.

These are all reasons why employees may not opt to take their vacation, yet studies are showing that employees who take time away can actually benefit employers more than those who don’t. They have less risk of burnout and are more productive after returning from vacation. Those who don’t take vacation are more likely to be frustrated and dissatisfied, possibly leading to higher turnover. It’s actually in an employer’s best interest to have employees use their vacation days.

Here are a few ways to encourage employees to take those vacation days:

  • Create systems in which employees can help to cover tasks for others on vacation to minimize the workload on return. This has the added benefit of keeping the business running more smoothly and without bumps.
  • Train managers to let go of subconscious bias and not to hold vacation time against employees who take it. If it is approved, and the work is caught up, there’s no reason an employee should be penalized for taking time off.
  • Discourage employees who are on vacation from working while away. (Not only does this limit the employee’s ability to relax, it also means the employer will need to pay for that time!)
  • Consider updating the vacation policy to mandate that leave be taken. Some companies are taking this a step further and are actually paying employees more to take time off in the form of bonuses or incentives paid out only to those who take vacation. The theory is that this changes the culture and improves employee morale as the organization is seen to value work/life balance for employees.
  • Analyze workloads to ensure that an overburdened staff is not the reason that employees feel they cannot get away. (Make changes as needed).
  • Consider whether technology should be utilized to help employees actually relax outside of work hours. For example, some organizations have implemented software changes that hold all company mail sent after business hours or after a specified time of day. While this is clearly not practical for all businesses, for those who use it, it may be a way to ensure employees are not working too much.
  • Change the way vacation days are rolled into the following calendar year. For example, by limiting how many days will roll over (or by reducing the total number of days that can be accrued at any given time), this may encourage employees to use more of the days they have saved up before they’re lost at the end of the year.
  • Ensure that the upper levels in the organization use their own vacation days. This is a powerful signal that it is appropriate to do so (and that it won’t be penalized).

What else has your organization done to encourage employees to take their vacation and not become burnt out at work? What has worked for you?