American employees are very poor vacationers when compared to the rest of the world.
Despite most workplaces offering increasingly more vacation time, many employees choose not to take their allotted time, a problem that’s growing worse. The past two decades, the average number of vacation days taken annually by Americans has dropped from about 21 to 16.
Many simply are not using all of their vacation days. According to Project: Time Off, 55 percent of Americans did not use all of their vacation time in 2015. (Based in Washington, D.C., Project: Time Off is a broad-based coalition of organizations, including many tourist destinations, committed to changing the thinking and behavior of Americans about vacation time.)
Not using vacation days has consequences. The average employee annually fails to take about two earned days of vacation. The employee doesn’t get paid out for them, either; they are just gone.
There are many reasons for not using vacation days.
According to Project: Time Off, the biggest reasons for not taking time off include “returning to a mountain of work” or the employee belief that “no one else can do my job.” Other reasons include wanting to show dedication and not wanting to be seen as replaceable.
These beliefs can be self-defeating. According to research, employees who take 10 or fewer days of vacation time are less likely to have received a raise or bonus the three previous years.
Those who took more of their vacation time and took 11 or more days off were more likely to receive raises, bonuses and promotions.
HIGHER RETENTION RATES
We know how good it feels to be away from the daily schedule for a few days.
Getting away from the day-to-day repeat of our lives can reduce stress, increase cardiovascular health and create a better sense of overall well-being and engagement at work when we return.
Employees who are encouraged to take more vacation time are less likely to leave their place of jobs for other opportunities.
In times when businesses are struggling to retain talent, encouraging vacation time can be part of a retention program.
Contrary to what one may think, taking time off often leads to increased productivity.
A major employer surveyed employee time-off habits and found those who took frequent vacations had a 10 percent to 20 percent improvement in annual performance reviews and were more productive.
And it doesn’t have to be an extravagant vacation, either.
Simply taking a few days to do work around the house, sleep in a bit or do things with family and friends can recharge the batteries.
MORE CREATIVITY, IDEAS
Employees who use more vacation time also often contribute more to innovative or strategic thinking.
When we remove ourselves from daily schedules, requirements and surroundings, it frees the mind to explore solutions and ideas that one might not otherwise consider.
Some businesses, such as Google, incorporate this idea into their workdays by encouraging walks, leisure time and other interactions not specifically work-related.
Employees report many solutions to problems, or ideas for new ways of doing business, occur during these down times. Vacation can act in much the same way.
PROMOTE TIME OFF
As human resource managers and business owners, we can directly influence staff in many ways.
One way to deliver a more engaged and innovative workplace is to encourage employees to take their vacation days.
According to Project: Time Off, 80 percent of employees would take more time off if they felt more supported and encouraged by their supervisors.
Fifty-eight percent reported a lack of support from their supervisors as reasons they did not take off more time.
COMMIT TO TIME OFF
As we enter the busy vacation season, make a commitment to use and enjoy your time away from the office.
An old adage is “Eat to live, not live to eat.” To have well-adjusted, healthy and engaged employees, we should also practice “Work to live, not live to work.”
Take time off this summer for yourself and create an environment in your workplace that encourages employees to take off, as well.
It will create a better, happier work environment – and happier employees.
Tom Bux is the director of the Center for Leadership and Workforce Development (workforce.lccc.edu) at Lehigh Carbon Community College, Schnecksville. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.