For some employers, a perfect world would be one where employees could work week after week without burning out. Nobody would ever want to take their kids to Disney World or need time off to travel for the holidays.
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But we don't live in that world. People do burn out, and they need time off for the reasons above and countless others. Despite these simple facts, companies around the world make workers feel guilty any time they want to take a couple days or weeks off. Fifty-nine percent of millennials and 41 percent of workers age 30 or older feel a sense of shame when planning or taking a vacation, according to a recent study from Alamo Rent A Car.
The fact is that workers need their vacation time. It helps them rejuvenate and refresh – which, in turn, keeps their productivity up at work.
"Vacation is the perfect opportunity for an employee to hit reset," says Gary Beckstrand, vice president at employee recognition and engagement specialists O.C. Tanner. "The time they take allows them to turn work off and focus on themselves, and this is a huge benefit for them not only in the moment, but also in the workplace. When an employee returns from vacation, they do it feeling rejuvenated and with fresh eyes."
Build a Vacation-Friendly Culture
If you want your employees – and, by extension, your company – to reap the benefits of vacation, you're going to need to stop shaming them for taking it.
Toward that end, some companies have begun offering unlimited vacation. Regardless of what kind of vacation time you give employees, the important thing is to create an environment where employees feel good about using their allotted days. Companies should even encourage workers to take time off when necessary!
"There is no right way to do vacation, as it varies from company to company," Beckstrand says. "My one recommendation is to ensure that all employees are taking time away from their work throughout the year. I think, especially with some companies that have an 'open' vacation policy, employees tend to be more hyperaware of taking time away and potential perceptions of abusing the system. Managers should be in tune with their teams to make sure everyone takes the time away they need to feel balanced at work."
Because vacation can be so beneficial to employees at all levels, Beckstrand suggests organizations do away with common "earn more PTO with longer tenure" schemes.
"Companies may want to consider accelerating the time it takes to accumulate vacation days," he says. "In addition, a reasonable use-or-lose policy may be beneficial to encourage employees to actually take their allotted vacation time."
You Won't Even Notice They're Gone
If, as a manager or executive, you find yourself irritated with a worker who wants time off, take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
"I could see a boss thinking that a project or even the day-to-day may not run smoothly without a key employee being present, but really it's to the eventual detriment of the boss to impose upon the employee's vacation time in that way because the employee may seek out a new job where they don't feel pinned down," Beckstrand says. "Teams and leaders can take a more proactive approach to plan for vacation time and use the team to fill in for one another. This, if done consistently, will actually build rapport and cross-functionality."
"There are many ways that employees can guarantee things will run smoothly while they are out of office, and the mental benefits to the employee taking time off outweigh the cons," he adds. "Prepare for them to be out, and there's really no reason to keep them from going."
If employees are properly cross-trained, no vacation, personal day, or sick leave will ever catch a team unawares.
"Prepare, prepare, prepare," Beckstrand says. "Ensure the employee has an informational out-of-office email set so that needs don't fall through the cracks, and have them outline ongoing work in a project tracker so that you have the tools to execute on anything that should arise while they are away."