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Subtle ways companies discourage employees from using vacation

Time off benefits your company as much as its employees even though both sides may not feel this way

Subtle ways companies discourage employees from using vacation

When world's greatest widget maker Steve Jones took the job at your organization a few years ago his compensation package likely included some vacation time or a timeline for when he’d eventually earn some paid time off.

Has Steve used his vacation time? If so, great. If not, have you stopped to wonder why?

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Is it because he has no outside interests or family and loves widget-making above all things in this world? Or is it more likely that your organization subtly — or not-so-subtly — discourages your employees from using their time off?

Chances are, it’s the latter.

The benefits of using PTO

Many organizations include PTO in their benefits packages then make it a giant pain to use it. This is a shame because time off “allows people to disengage, and proactively reflect on projects, relationships and opportunities,” says organizational psychologist Jennifer Yugo. Whether it’s a long lunch, a long weekend here and there, a two-week vacation or maybe even a sabbatical, any time off will allow the employee to recharge and come back with increased clarity and productivity.

Further, with “constant competition for talent, companies need to consider how time off and recovery periods can add strategically to their employment brand and retention strategies,” says Yugo. If the company next door offers the same salary but has better vacation policies, the grass will look that much greener.

Consider these other ways your company may be discouraging its employees from taking time off.

Having no clear process for requesting time off

Not having a defined process for requesting time off or having a difficult and unpredictable process can be a significant barrier, says Deanna Arnold, founder of The People’s HR, a human resources consultancy. If multiple people have to check calendars, and send memos go back and forth before they can approve requests, it can be daunting to employees.

Ideally employees should just have to have a conversation with their managers and maybe submit a request in writing. “When talking with their manager, the employee can determine if there are certain times of the year that are better for them to take time versus others based on the needs of the business, the department, etc. and then take their time accordingly,” says Arnold.

Setting narrow restrictions for using time off

CPAs don’t normally take vacation between January 1 and April 15, and retail workers typically don’t get time off between Thanksgiving and Christmas. These are some standard restrictions that just come with the territory in these industries and they make sense. But if your company sets up complicated restrictions or only allows narrow windows when people can take time off, that’s a problem.

“If your boss asks you not to take a vacation during a certain time of the year, work with them to find out when a better time would be for you to disconnect and agree upon it as early in advance as possible,” recommends Chris Boyce, CEO of Virgin Pulse, a health-focused employee engagement tool.

Sending email at all hours

If leadership is sending email at all hours, even if they supposedly don’t expect anyone to respond, the behavior they’re modeling is “that working around the clock is expected to get ahead,” says author and corporate psychologist Patricia Thompson. This can make employees feel like they’ll be considered unresponsive if they take time off or will arrive back to so many missed emails that it won’t be worth it.

Abusing technology

A close relative of sending email at all hours is expecting people to be available simply because technology makes it possible, says Arnold. Just because an employee could join the weekly conference call from a cruise ship doesn’t mean she should. When someone’s off, they’re off.

See why you're only hurting yourself by not taking all of your vacation time.