Avoid Employee Burnout: Stop Sandbagging Your Vacation Policy

employee burnout and vacations
Let's throw this out there. You need a vacation. Not you personally (although...I'm guessing there's that, too). "You," also known as: your company.

Vacations have definitive ROI. Myriad studies, including our own, say vacation time is crucial for creativity. It lets your brain rest. Americans who take vacations have higher well-being, lower absenteeism, and fewer workplace accidents.

Vacations have been shown to spark innovation, offer a fresh perspective for problem solving, and increase productivity. On the flipside, not taking vacation is detrimental. A Horizons Workforce Consulting study of American vacation habits found employees who take less than 25% of their earned vacation are more likely to feel burned out. That's bad.

So why aren't people taking it?


Our research says it may be...your managers.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not saying managers are willfully denying people the right to take time off. But they're reluctant to take time themselves, which has the same effect. It subtly communicates the notion that time off is frowned upon...that it somehow conveys lack of commitment.

Managers are company role models. What they do communicates the standard to their reports. But in our study, less than half of all managers we heard from took all their vacation. And of those who did, only about a third said it actually felt like a vacation - more than a third said they felt guilty. And a whopping two-thirds worked while taking time off. Some role models!

That says our vacation crisis isn't just a policy problem; it's a culture problem. As a nation, we get the least number of vacation days per year, and yet we still seem uncomfortable about taking it all.


So what do we do? The short answer: take vacation. The longer answer: make it possible for people to take vacation.

A few suggestions:

UNDERSTAND THE PROBLEM: Why aren't people vacationing? Where does it start? Does the no-vacation philosophy extend all the way up the chain to leadership? Consider how time off is portrayed throughout the ranks in your company.

ENGAGE MANAGERS: They're role models; encourage them to disconnect...really disconnect. Have them talk it up - about how time off fuels their energy and creativity while helping them avoid burnout.

MAKE VACATION POSSIBLE: A Bright Horizons Modern Family Index told us that more than half of employees used vacation and sick days to take care of children. I think we can agree...that's no vacation. But if school's out and there's no place for a child to go, what's a working mother or father to do? Employer-sponsored replacement back-up care, on the other hand, means parents can use their time off for recharging instead of filling their time handling everyday responsibilities.

HONOR VACATIONS: Don't just award vacation time...make it count. Don't email your people on vacation. Have a chain of command that ensures coverage. If people want to check in, so be it. I'd personally prefer not to come back to, "You have 7000 new messages," so I'll check email. But I know I don't have to.


The vacation problem isn't of small concern. How do we know? Over half of Americans (56%) haven't taken a vacation in the past year - that's roughly 135 million people. Additionally, 41% of Americans don't take their paid time off. Why? They think they'll be seen as slackers (28%) and are afraid of the work that will await them upon their return (40%).

That, according to our research, means a large part of our workforce is leaving a significant amount of productivity on the table.

And that's not doing anybody any good.

Download the Horizons Workforce Consulting study, Unused Vacation Negatively Impacts Work Performance, to learn more.
Bright Horizons
About the Author
Bright Horizons
Bright Horizons
In 1986, our founders saw that child care was an enormous obstacle for working parents. On-site centers became one way we responded to help employees – and organizations -- work better. Today we offer child care, elder care, and help for education and careers -- tools used by more than 1,000 of the world’s top employers and that power many of the world's best brands
employee burnout and vacations

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