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Stop Employees from Skipping Vacation, Losing Billions in Benefits

Posted by Patrick Ball on 22 Oct 2014

Corporate America is a breeding ground for workaholics. 

Encourage your employees to take their vacation time

Ever-changing workdays. Constant contact. Work perks ostensibly designed to keep employees in the office. Put it all together and you've got employees working longer hours, for the same pay -- and most of them aren't taking advantage of the vacation time they've earned.

Americans are taking less vacation time than they have in decades, according to new research released by the US Travel Association. In 2013 alone, U.S. employees surrendered 169 million days of paid time off, totaling $52.4 billion in lost benefits, according to the report.  

This trend toward Americans as "work martyrs," as USTA puts it, isn't good for anyone.

  • Not for the workers -- employees who use the least amount of PTO are among the most stressed 
  • Not for their employers -- who lose around $300 billion per year due to employee stress, according to the World Health Organization
  • And not for their families, as the cute kids in those MasterCard commercials from last year explained.

Only 25 percent of employees with paid time off (PTO) took all of their vacation time in 2013, according to Glassdoor's Employment Confidence Survey. Of those who do take a break from the grind, a whopping 61 percent admitted to doing some work while on vacation, the survey says.

But taking time away from work is necessary, and some of the short-term and long-term benefits of encouraging workers to do so include improved productivity and employee engagement, a greater focus on tasks, lower stress levels and a clearer head to make important business decisions, says Will Staney, head of global recruiting at Glassdoor. Beyond the benefits employees can receive from taking vacation, your business will benefit too.

As an employer, it's important to buck the trend toward overwork and make sure your employees are using their vacation time. How? Here are six suggestions. 

  1. Lead by Example 
    Workplace culture is set from the top down. Managers and senior level employees need to model the work balance they'd like to encourage for their employees. If the CEO or senior management doesn't value taking time away from the office, it is tough for employees to justify unplugging either, says Staney. Paid time off should be taken by all employees, regardless of their position in the company. How they behave while away is just as important. If the COO is away but responding to emails with the same consistency as though hes in the office, then that sends a powerful message to employees.

  2. Plan Coverage for Vacationing Employees 
    Knowing someone is available to take on your tasks, while you're away is comforting. It also allows for employees to truly separate from the office during vacation. Employees can write a list out of their daily responsibilities and where one can access important files. Encourage the fill-in to take notes and do the tasks a few times before the day comes, so everyone feels comfortable.

  3. Remind Them They Earned Their PTO
    Vacation time is part of an employees hard-earned salary and benefits package. Break down the amount their vacation, or paid time off, is worth in dollars. This ought to open up their eyes.

  4. Make Sure Your Vacation Policy Fits Company Culture 
    Some companies use the standard use it or lose it approach, where either a few vacation days (or none) roll over to the next calendar year. A newer trend, embraced by companies like Netflix, is offering an unlimited vacation policy, which encourages workers to take the time off when they need it. HR needs to weigh which option is more effective for their organization. Vacation policies are not one-size-fits-all for every company, so I suggest each company take a look at their own workforce and what works best, says Staney.

  5. Have HR Explain the Benefits of Taking Time Off
    Write about vacation-related topics on the company's blog or newsletter, such as the detriments that stress has on work performance and why taking time off can lead to a better year-end review. According to an internal study of its employees, Ernst & Young found that for each additional 10 hours of vacation employees took, their year-end performance ratings improved by 8 percent. You can also offer vacation preparation tips, including how much notice an employee should give when requesting to take PTO.

  6. Celebrate National Work and Family Month in October 
    This observance aims to improve the balance between work and family time in America. If a company takes a position of support for such a cause, it opens up dialogue about the topic and makes employees feel encouraged to spend time away from the office.

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