What employers lose when they discourage employees from taking time off
It doesn’t help your business when employees work without adequate breaks.
U.S. workers often don’t use all the time off they’ve earned. A study by GfK for the U.S. Travel Association found more than 40 percent of employees who have paid time off as one of their job benefits don’t use all of it.
That’s a problem employers should be paying attention to because they can lose a lot when employees don’t take enough time off.
Everyone needs to take time to rest and relax, says Leigh Steere, co-founder of Managing People Better LLC. Productivity, quality, creativity and safety can drop when employees are feeling stressed and overworked.
Chronic workaholics who don’t take time off will eventually crash — and that can cost your company, says Jeff Green, president and owner of Green Thoughts Consulting. The recovery time after a burnout will probably be longer than the vacation would have been, so encourage everyone on your team to take time off.
A valuable learning opportunity
When an employee takes a vacation, it gives you the opportunity to cross-train others on the tasks that person usually handles. “If you find things falling apart when the employee takes time off, the problem is not the employee's time off,” Steere says. “It’s a failure to make sure others have the tools, processes, and training to cover for the absent employee.”
You never know when an employee might give two weeks’ notice or suddenly come down with an illness that will require an extended period off work. It’s important your team is capable of carrying on without everyone in attendance.
Giving employees a chance to step in for each other can help with succession planning, says Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam. It’s a good time to delegate projects to other people so they can try different assignments.
“Time away from the job allows an employee to take in new sights and experiences,” Steere says. “Sometimes those new impressions will spark ‘ah-ha’ moments where an employee formulates an exciting new product concept, or a creative solution to a vexing business problem, or ideas for process improvements.”
How to encourage employees to take time off
Your company may be subtly discouraging employees from taking time off, even if the human resources team and other managers don’t realize it. Too many work cultures reward working long hours, Steere says. “The better approach is to reward the results produced by an employee; it doesn't matter if they work 40 or 60 hours a week, or take vacation, as long as they are delivering the goods.”
It’s also important you don’t require employees to jump through hoops to take time off, Steere says. If conflicts arise, too many people want to take the same time off, or you worry a specific time-off request will conflict with a deadline or other business need, sit down with the employees involved and ask them to help you come up with solutions. “An employee with a strong desire for particular vacation dates probably also has ideas for how to handle the business implications of taking that time off.”
And consider instituting a policy that requires employees to unplug from work phones and laptops while on vacation, Steere says. It’s not a break if you’re constantly on the alert for work emails and messages.
Finally, managers should show that vacations are respected by taking time off themselves, Hosking says. “This signals to employees that taking time off is encouraged.”