We all know that taking vacations is important for avoiding burnout. But a new study suggests that encouraging employees to take vacations also has another benefit: it makes them more willing to work longer hours when needed.
Unfortunately, bosses may give lip service to the idea of using vacation time, but often convey mixed messages, says the GfK survey of more than 5,600 U.S. employees. Is your attitude toward vacation time hurting your employees—and your business? With year-end upon us (a great time for employees to use up their vacation days), here’s where you could be going wrong.
Do As I Say, Not As I Do
Although 93 percent of managers in the GfK survey say time off is important for their employees, 59 percent left some of their own vacation days on the table last year. And while 91 percent of managers say they “actively encourage time off,” 43 percent admit they talk to employees about vacation only once a year—or less often.
Managers may believe time off is important in theory, but only 55 percent of them feel that others (CEOs or other managers) support them taking time off. No wonder that just 39 percent of non-managers feel supported in taking time off. More than two-thirds (68 percent) of non-managers say they either hear nothing, negative messages or mixed messages about taking their vacation time.
The higher the position in the company, the less likely the person is to use all their vacation time. That will come as no surprise to any small business owner who has struggled to fit in even a long weekend away. However, seeing 67 percent of C-level execs leave vacation on the table clearly has an influence on the rest of the team. After all, if the boss never takes time off, who wants to do so and be thought of as a slacker?
“No One Else Can Do It”
Taking vacation offers benefits that can’t be denied. It prevents burnout, re-energizes employees and often gives rise to great new ideas (the study’s authors note the ideas for Instagram, Dropbox and the hit Broadway musical Hamilton all were generated during vacations).
In addition, 72 percent of managers say encouraging employees to use their vacation time makes them more willing to work longer hours when it’s truly necessary. In today’s demanding business environment, having a staff that can power through when it’s urgently needed can give you a competitive edge. Wouldn’t you rather have employees with the energy to pull an all-nighter than a staff who is drained by the unrelenting daily grind?
Many workers don’t take a vacation because they worry about returning to a mountain of work or think no one else can do their jobs while they’re gone. While no one wants to feel replaceable, the survey notes if your employees can’t carry each other’s weight from time to time, there’s something wrong with how you’re developing your team.
Walk the Walk
How can you encourage employees to actually use their vacation time (and build a staff that’s happy to work longer hours when you need them to)? The study offers these tips:
- Cross-train employees in various duties. That way, there’s always someone who can handle an employee’s job while he or she is on vacation.
- Create an “email detox” program. At the Huffington Post, the study notes, employees on vacation can use a tool that deletes incoming email and sends an automatic reply that says the recipient is on vacation, includes an emergency contact and asks the person to send the email again when the vacationer returns.
- Take an office-wide vacation. The end of the year is a natural time for many businesses to shut down for a week. If lots of your clients already do this, it might be practical for you, too. Of course, you can choose any week of the year that business is typically slow. Or choose a two-week timeframe where half the staff can take vacation the first week, the other half the second.
- Walk the walk. Don’t just give lip service to taking a vacation—take one yourself! I know, I know—it’s tough to do. But even a short vacation can recharge your batteries in ways you never imagined. (Maybe you’ll write the next Hamilton.) Besides, if your staff never has to manage without you, they’ll never learn how.
Working Late Photo via Shutterstock