Mandatory Vacation Might Juice Your Employee Productivity

The past several years have seen employers of all kinds dabbling in nontraditional types of paid leave. One of the more notable offerings has been unlimited vacation time, but research has found that such leave is actually counterproductive—peer pressure prevents most employees from actually taking advantage of it.

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The better approach? Neil Pasricha, author of The Happiness Equation and The Book of Awesome, and SimpliFlying CEO Shashank Nigam assert in an article on a Harvard Business Review blog that recurring, scheduled mandatory vacation can pay off for both employee and employer.

The two collaborated to see what would happen if employees were forced to take a scheduled week off from work every 7 weeks. SimpliFlying employees who contacted the office while on vacation in any way didn’t get paid for that vacation week. In other words, employees were subject to a financial punishment for working when they weren’t supposed to be working.

After 12 weeks of the experiment, managers rated employee productivity, creativity, and happiness levels before and after the mandatory time off. The results were promising: Creativity increased 33%, happiness went up 25%, and productivity climbed 13%.

The positive manager ratings complemented the employees’ reactions postvacation. Many talked about finally finding the time to check off items on their bucket lists, such as learning a different language or traveling someplace new.

Pasricha and Nigam cite two caveats, though. First, they determined that due to SimpliFlying’s small staff size (10 employees), the forced breaks were too frequent; as a result, they adjusted the timing to every 8 weeks. Second, they learned the importance of staggering schedules. It didn’t make sense, for example, to have workers on the same project team take back-to-back time off. In response, they revised the arrangement so no one could take a week off right after a coworker has returned.

Your mileage may vary, of course, but the experiment suggests that mandatory vacation time could be win-win.