The Benefits of Vacation: Why Letting Employees Off Makes So Much Sense

© Barry Barnes -
© Barry Barnes -

Why, oh why are we so stingy with time off?

Not only are managers reluctant to give time off, employees are often reluctant to take it.

It’s no secret that we’re a workaholic culture here in the United States. We’re a bunch of taskmasters and slaves to our work, by our own volition. It’s time we started getting smart about time off.

As the CEO of Visibility, I manage a virtual team, and as a local wine shop owner, I manage a traditional work team. Both styles of management require being purposeful about facilitating and encouraging balance. (Can you tell this is the part where I establish credibility?)

They don’t want to ask

All too often, workers are timid about asking for time off. They’re worried it will make them look lazy and unengaged, or they feel that they don’t have enough job security to take off.

That’s simply our culture. Americans take very little time off, paid or not, that’s what’s expected of us. According to a recent report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, examining vacation policies in 21 developed countries, researchers found that every country except the U.S. had laws making employers offer between 10 and 30 paid vacation days a year.

One of the authors of this report, John Schmitt, a senior economist with CEPR, remarks on the findings stating, “I think what that means is that people get nervous about both asking for time off and taking time off.” The still lingering fear of making the next round of layoffs has stayed with workers. That is a big factor in the reason why 66 percent of the employees polled in a Right Management survey had not used all of their allotted paid vacation in the previous year. That number includes many upper-management employees as well as staff.

The benefits of vacation time

They don’t want to ask for the time, and employers are reluctant to offer it, but why? Allowing workers to take time off can put stress on the rest of the team, but so can all work and no play!

  • It doesn’t help anyone to have employees burning the midnight oil without a break. Organizations wind up with employee burnout. 37 percent of all working dads said they would consider the option of taking a new job with less pay if it offered a better work-life balance.
  • It’s just plain healthy to take vacations. Employees are allowed to unplug, unwind and de-stress. In a study of 13,000 middle-aged men at risk for heart disease, those who skipped vacations for five (5) consecutive years were found to be 30 percent more likely to suffer heart attacks than those who took at least one week off each year.
  • Vacations will facilitate higher energy levels, creativity and a fresh perspective. Taking time off can be very positive for the employee, their co-workers and the clients that they interact with.
  • All of the benefits of taking time off can improve the bottom line for the company. Employees come back energized and engaged, improving productivity.

Offer the time

According to Bob Moulesong, “Upper-management can send a distinct message to their employees by taking vacation and encouraging staff to do so. The end result can be a renewed and recharged workforce ready to deal.” It turns out leading by example doesn’t always have to be a hassle. This also means setting the example in getting ready to take off.

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Making sure that your team is set up for success while you’re away. Does everyone have the contacts they will need? Work ahead to lighten the load. Let clients, customers and co-workers know well in advance of your absence.

If employees aren’t willing to ask for vacation time, offer it. Paid or not, employees need time off.

Here’s a secret to looking like the best boss ever. Take a look at your numbers, when is your slow season? What month would make the most sense for your business? That’s when you should aim to encourage employees to take off. Generally speaking, August is a slump time for most organizations.

Keeping employees happy, focused and productive is vital to the health of an organization. It makes perfect sense to not only put time off on the table, but to actually encourage your team to take the time off.

Americans are reluctant to leave their post, but it really is for the best. A good employer brand and a positive company culture are always worth what you put into them.

Sean Pomeroy, CEO of Visibility Software, has worked in the Human Resources industry since he graduated from Radford University with a Bachelors in Psychology and a Master of Arts in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. After working in HR as a generalist for a government contracting company, he moved to the HR Technology arena and began assisting companies in the selection and implementation of HR software.