Give me a break! Why your employees need a vacation

Near the end of every year, it’s common for HR to remind employees to take advantage of any remaining paid time off benefits. After all, paid vacation is precious  to most, and in some states, vacation is even considered the same as cash compensation. Yet, too many people don’t take enough time off, a phenomenon that’s been discussed in the industry by many experts.

We work too much in the USA

America is a nation of workaholics. According to Travel Effect, an initiative of the US Travel Association, in 2013, nearly $52.4 billion in time off benefits was voluntarily forfeited by American workers. That $52.4 billion represents 169 million days of potential paid time off, which equates to $504 per employee. These numbers are staggering!

In 2013 and 2014, US workers took less vacation than at any other point in the last 40 years, which is a statistic worth paying attention to if we’re at all concerned about our workers’ health and wellness.

On top of that, many employees work at least part of their vacation. Sometimes the choice is voluntary, but other times the employee is asked to perform a task by the employer. In either case, the employee isn’t getting the full rest and recuperation paid time off is meant to provide. It’s time for change when it comes to giving employees a break!

The science behind paid time off

Employees need to take vacations, even in the midst of important company deadlines. Numerous studies have shown that employees who don’t get a break from work responsibilities have a tendency to develop above-average stress levels that can render them less productive.

Lack of vacation also has other, serious health consequences. Here’s a sampling of studies with specific findings for why taking vacation matters to employee wellness:

  • The Framingham Heart Study, the longest running study of heart disease in the world, showed that men who failed to take a vacation for a few years were 30% more likely to experience a heart attack than their peers who took time off on a regular basis.
  • A study by the Marshfield Clinic in rural Wisconsin revealed that women who took vacation at least twice a year were less likely to suffer from depression than those who did not take frequent vacations.
  • The University of Pittsburgh’s Mind-Body Center studied 1,400 people and found that leisure activities reduced depression and resulted in higher positive emotional levels, as well as smaller waistlines and lower blood pressure.

It’s clear that giving employees time off is a critical aspect of running an effective organization. However, managers have been known to discourage workers from taking paid leave. Why is this?

  • HR may not have a good system for keeping track of paid time off.
  • Managers may see vacation time as taking away from production.

Ways to encourage employees to take a break

To perform optimally, employees need to get regular breaks from work. There are a few ways you can make sure this happens:

  • Make it easy for employees to request time off, by simplifying policies and forms.
  • Conduct a quarterly review of PTO to identify employees who aren’t taking advantage of this benefit, and encourage them to do so.
  • Cross-train your employees. When employees can stand in for each other, your customers receive better service, and your employees spend less time and energy stressing that critical tasks will go undone during a vacation.
  • Regularly communicate the value of taking time off from work, and have management get behind this.

When you do these things, your employees will take time off as needed to balance their lives, knowing they can do so without risking their jobs.