#TBT: Go Away! Why Employee Vacations Still Matter

Employee Vacations & Time Off

Welcome to Solutions at Work #TBT. In the weeks to come, we'll be revisiting and reconsidering HR topics that have made news in the past. Come back every Thursday to see how HR, the workforce, and work/life topics are evolving. Here's an interesting email subject line recently sent from a travel company: "Vacation like the Boss." It's a pretty funny message since it seems the boss isn't vacationing...and neither is anybody else. Vacationing is a lost art, wrote Andrea Wicks Bowles in 2013. And as Horizons Workforce Consulting has shown in a recent study, it hasn't gotten any better. HWC's 2015 vacation report shows that, despite having the least amount of paid vacation time in the world, Americans - managers and their reports - are simply not taking time off. In fact, only 1/3 of employees told HWC they took full advantage of their paid vacation, the rest wrapping up their year with unused days off still on the books.

The High Cost of Unused Employee Vacations

This is bad news for any number of reasons - potential burnout and compromised energy to name two. "Absence of vacation affects the boss as well as the company" says HWC consultant Lucy English, one of the study's authors. Employees who skipped time off were about 20% more likely to feel burned out, and more than 50% as likely to feel unable to do the job. And that's bad news for everybody. So what's a boss to do? For starters, how about...take a vacation? The fact is, managers are among the least likely to take a vacation in an organization, and the negative impact flows downward. If the boss isn't taking time off, neither are his or her reports. Our study showed that while non-managers are somewhat more likely than managers to actually use their vacation time, they're not exactly powering down. Case in point, nearly half of the study respondents said they felt compelled to check in while on vacation, and only a fraction of those people actually took all of their paid days. "Staying connected kind of torpedoes vacation," says Lucy. The unquestionable benefits of time off include increased creativity, productivity, and engagement, but only if you do it right. "Vacationing and getting the benefits of vacation time are really two different things," she says.

The Role of Managers in Supporting a Positive Work Culture

What's clear is that something's got to change. One good idea, Lucy recommends, is for employers to make it possible to vacation by illustrating both a clear chain of command and precisely who will be covering what during an employee's absence. That gives people both the confidence and the permission not just to leave town ; but to sign off. The study also offers a strong message about modeling; in other words, how important it is for managers to set the standard for employee vacations by taking time off themselves. "And don't just take vacations," says Lucy. "Talk them up." The message to managers then may well be summed up in two simple words: Go Away! Your employees - and your company - will thank you.

Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.