There is no controversy over the fact that employees who are enthusiastic about their jobs and dedicated to their work yield better results for their companies. It’s also pretty clear that using vacation time and periodically disconnecting from work leads to more productivity and a greater likelihood of career success. Yet, according to a study by Project: Time Off, 55% of Americans leave vacation days unused each year. All of this begs the question: as managers, how can we empower employees to make full use of their vacation time and reap the benefits of more productive and satisfied teammates?
First, perhaps the most impactful thing we can do to incentivize employees not to squander paid time off is to create a culture that promotes the use of vacation as the expected and responsible thing to do. I once had a boss who constantly chided people for taking vacation. He would publicly say things like, ‘Mary just got back from her third vacation of the year. It’s nice to see she has time to drop in on this meeting.’ Now, in fairness, he intended these comments in jest. But, whether lighthearted or not, his remarks induced insecurity and were almost universally received poorly.
As managers, we should be careful and deliberate about creating an environment that supports those in our companies who responsibly find ways to achieve greater work-life balance. Celebrate employees’ vacations. Ask them if they are comfortable sharing a few pictures and the highlights of their latest adventures at the next team meeting. Put up a dream vacation scrap board in the office pantry and invite your team to contribute their fantasy vacations. Make it a meeting ice breaker to talk about what each employee would do with a one-day staycation in his or her own hometown.
The surest way to establish a culture that values vacation—use your own vacation time and make it known that you prioritize using all of your paid time off. In other words, as a manager, walk the talk. It’s one thing to tell your employees that they should use their time off, but it is wholly more meaningful to lead by example. With 53% of mangers conceding that they do not consistently model the behavior they would like to see from their employees around utilizing time off, it’s no wonder that employees do not feel empowered to take their vacation time.
Second, know your company’s policies on the use of paid vacation, holiday and personal time. As a manager, you have more interaction with and influence over your employees than the HR department. Use your influence to educate your employees on their benefits, including paid time off. If there are parameters around the use of vacation time, such as submitting a request several weeks in advance, creating a work reallocation plan or avoiding the company’s busiest times, make sure your employees understand these ground rules.
Also, remind employees that paid vacation time is not a perk, it’s really part of their overall compensation package. If employees forfeit vacation time at the end of the year, they are in essence volunteering for their own employer. When looked at this way, many people would prefer to volunteer their free time to help out family and friends, be the chaperon for their children’s field trips or work with a local charity.
Third, expressly remind your employees that their vacation time is a perishable commodity and expires. Most employers do not allow paid time off to accrue indefinitely, and forfeiting vacation days is about as wasteful as burning money.
At the half year mark, I suggest that managers send out a reminder to their teams about the deadline to use paid vacation time. It’s also worth noting that the whole team cannot be out of the office the last four weeks of the year, so it is important that each employee start planning how to use the rest of his or her vacation time for the year.
Half way through the year, I also request that the HR department send me vacation balances for all of my employees. I personally get in touch with employees who have excessive vacation balances and tell them why I believe using their vacation time is important for them and also for the productivity of our teams. If an employee is reticent to use his or her full vacation time, I discuss the reasons and try to come up with a plan that addresses that employee’s specific concerns.
Vacation time is not a luxury, it’s an important component to avoiding burnout, fueling productivity and creating a culture of dedicated, long-term commitment. As managers, we know this to be true and for the benefit of everyone it’s time that we proactively support our employees in claiming their right to a little rest and relaxation.