By Maria Black, President, ADP TotalSource®
Once standard among American families, summer vacations no longer appear as an annual event on many calendars. Recent studies show that many employees leave vacation days on the table. For those who do take a break, many feel shame for taking time off. Fifty-five percent of workers surveyed left vacation days unused in 2015, totaling 658 million days, according to a study commissioned by Project: Time Off. Of those, 222 million days could not be rolled over or paid out in any way – which means Americans forfeited $61.4 billion in benefits.
What’s holding Americans back from taking the vacation days they’ve earned?
Guilt plays a large role. Research from Alamo Rent A Car found that 47 percent of all workers surveyed feel a sense of shame or guilt at their workplace for taking a vacation. This sentiment is even stronger among Millennials at 59 percent. And Millennials aren’t just feeling guilty – they’re dishing it out, too. Forty-two percent also shame their co-workers who take vacations, compared to 24 percent of older employees.
On the surface, it may seem like a good thing to have employees at their desks more. In reality, it’s in a business’ best interest to encourage workers to take a vacation. Time off from work can strengthen workplace morale, increase productivity and even provide health benefits to employees. (It also can boost creativity – the creator of the award-winning Broadway musical “Hamilton” got the idea for the show after reading a biography about Alexander Hamilton during a vacation!) A paid vacation policy also can help companies attract and retain high-quality employees – ultimately helping businesses stay competitive in the marketplace.
Companies can take a more active role in making sure employees take their hard-earned vacation time by adopting these best practices:
- Create a solid vacation policy and communicate it clearly to all employees.
- Structure a vacation program consistent with your business. Many companies offer a set number of days for new employees and then increase time off with years of service. Other businesses now offer unlimited vacation time. Evaluate a range of options before choosing the right fit for your employees.
- Some states permit “use-it-or-lose-it” policies that allow companies to limit the number of vacation days their employees can carry over into the next year. Another option is to place a cap on how much vacation an employee can accrue before requiring that they use it. Policies like these may help prevent employees from sitting on unused vacation time.
- Plan for busy times and ensure employees know when to submit vacation requests – especially if there are periods when you must restrict time off.
- Determine which employees – full-time, part-time or both – are eligible for time off, and establish an accrual system that is fair to all.
- Consider adopting a paid time off bank that combines time for illness, vacation and personal leave to make it easier to track employee time off.
- Make sure your vacation policy is available in writing and shared with all employees. Add it to the agenda at staff meetings to discuss any changes, answer questions and encourage employees to use their time off.
- Help rebalance workloads. The Project: Time Off study also found that employees – 37 percent of respondents — often don’t take time off because they’re afraid they’ll return to a mountain of work. Another 30 percent of respondents said that no one else can do the job. Company leaders can help monitor employee workloads and redistribute responsibilities so everyone can benefit from time away from the office.
- Practice what you preach. It’s important for employees to see business leaders taking time off. They may be more likely to schedule their own vacations if they hear company executives talking about theirs. Let workers know that you expect all eligible employees to take advantage of this benefit.
There’s no shame or guilt in taking a well-deserved vacation. Adopting these best practices can help encourage employees to take the time they’ve earned – benefiting both them and your business long-term.