Did you skip out on your vacation time this year? Do you feel overwhelmed by your work? If so, you aren’t alone. America’s determined work culture comes with a noteworthy side effect: the sacrifice of vacation days. According to Project Time Off, studies reveal that half of American employees don’t use their paid time off each year. Another research shows that Americans work more than anyone in the industrialized world.
It’s no surprise that they also take less vacation days, work longer days, and retire later. Why is vacation time important for your company? It almost sounds like a trick question, until you start thinking more critically. You can probably rattle off several easy answers, from simply complying with labor laws to reasons like the need for a break.
Furthermore, the importance of quality time with family, while meeting all of those work-life balances, is essential. When you look at the numbers, and truly learn how taking time off impacts things at a business level, you’ll understand why vacation time—and developing the right vacation policy—is critical.
The number of vacation days used by Americans increased slightly. In fact, it went from a low of 16.8 to 17.4 days per year in 2018. Even so, it’s still well below the long-term average of 20.3 days per year. This is a fact that studies suggest takes a toll on employee’s health and well-being. There are numerous consequences of skipping vacation time.
“We find after years of struggle that we don’t take a trip; a trip takes us.”
The damaging effects of not taking vacation time
Although vacationing may seem like a luxury, research reveals that it’s a necessity. Mayo Clinic defines job burnout as “A special type of work-related stress—a state of physical or emotional exhaustion”. It also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity. Burnout highly reduces the satisfaction employees feel in their job. It also can rob them of satisfaction in their personal lives as well.
This is likely because, as employees spend more hours at work, work comes to define more of their existence. Eventually, personal life and professional life become one and the same. Derek Thompson of The Atlantic sums it up fairly well. He did so with a new term for America’s zealous devotion to overwork: workism. Modern societies today participate less in religious and other social organizations.
Therefore, more people turn to the workplace as a source of meaning and purpose in life. Is this healthy for employees? Is an employee’s deeply-rooted devotion to work healthy for a company? Well, when that devotion goes too far, the answer becomes a resounding no for both parties. At the company level, burnout is a productivity destroyer. It may seem obvious that burnout would cause an employee to become disengaged from their work.
Research shows that the link between burnout and engagement is so close that both concepts are virtually indistinguishable from each other. When workplace engagement declines, so does the bottom line. However, it isn’t just about loss of engagement. The long-term impact of burnout can be devastating to employees’ entire lives, with symptoms such as:
- Sadness, anger, or irritability.
- Alcohol or substance misuse.
- Heart disease.
- High blood pressure.
- Type two diabetes.
- Vulnerability to illnesses.
It’s natural to assume that dedicated employees are a boon for a company. It’s also wise to consider the possible drawbacks that can come from over-dedication. A way you can prevent the former from turning into the latter is with a well-designed vacation policy.
Why you should encourage employees to take vacation days
Mayo Clinic goes on to list employees who are at risk for job burnout. The list includes many descriptors of workism:
- Those employees with incredibly high workloads, including overtime.
- Employees who try to be everything to everyone.
- Workers who feel they have little or no control over their work.
- Employees with monotonous jobs.
- Employees who identify so strongly with work that they lack balance between work life and personal life.
Workism leads to burnout, and burnout leads to many issues. For instance, health problems, disengagement, and poor performance. How do you create a culture that discourages workism in employees? One sure-fire method is to encourage employees to take a vacation.
Employees who take time off from work report feeling less stress, less anxiety, and fewer instances of depression. Those aren’t the only positive effects, either. Vacationing regularly is also linked to a lower risk of heart disease.
The experience of a vacation proved to have a lasting impact on general well-being. It also offers a perception of a life well-lived. Numerous studies show that happier and healthier employees are more productive. Of course, it’s a great reason for any company to promote vacation. Happy employees are also less likely to seek another job, and they cost less to employ. In other words, thanks to higher attendance and fewer health insurance claims. In addition, when employees take time away, they actually report that difficult tasks seem easier when they return.
The health benefits of vacation time
Missing out on downtime takes a hefty toll. Taking advantage of vacation days off comes with a list of benefits. Here are just a few of the ways vacationing improves your life:
Increased relationship satisfaction
Taking time away from work gives employees many opportunities. It lets them reconnect with their romantic partners away from the daily grind. A survey was conducted by the U.S. Travel Association. It found that, out of the respondents, 94 percent said they felt very close to one another. 86 percent of the couples who vacationed together reported the romance was still alive in their relationship.
In general, when couples regularly spend time traveling and exploring together, they feel like they share the same goals. They also share the same interests and desires, which enhance their relationship satisfaction.
An extended state of Zen
The benefits of meditation are well researched and reported on. However, few people know that studies show that vacations can have the same effect as regular meditation practices. Both meditating and taking a break from the workplace significantly lower stress and boost the immune system. Here’s the best news of all: these benefits last up to ten months after the vacation ends.
Other health benefits
American children with working parents report that their parents bring both their work and work-related stress home with them. Additionally, they report having significant stress of their own. Vacations offer all family members time to relax, decompress, and the opportunity to connect with one another. Without workplace obligations and other daily pressures to focus on, parents can shift their attention to their children’s needs. This improves familial gratification.
Improved mental health
The impact that taking regular vacations have on an employee’s health is significant. From the perspective of mental health, time off of work reduces reports of depression and anxiety. Mental health improvements also play a significant role in improving physical health, since elevated stress levels can lead to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, strokes, and heart attacks.
It’s evident that planning regular getaways should be part of your routine healthcare plan. Besides, research suggests that workers reap even more health and well-being rewards when vacation time is spent out in nature.
Reasons why employees don’t take vacation time
In 2018, Glassdoor reported that Americans only used about 54 percent of their vacation days. Only 28 percent planned to use all of their allotted vacation days in 2019. If vacations are so good for employees and employers alike, how come people don’t take advantage of it? How can you create a vacation policy that encourages people to actually use it? We did mention workism as a possible cause for taking less time off. Even so, employees who underutilize their vacation time may be doing so for many reasons. To name a few:
- Financial concerns about the cost of vacations.
- Managerial pressure to meet deadlines.
- Guilt over the additional workload on coworkers.
- Peer pressure to seem dedicated to the job.
- A spouse or loved one unable to travel or take time off.
- Fear of delayed advancement or termination.
- “Banking” PTO for eventual payout.
- Health issues.
Even when employees do take vacations, they may not be getting the full benefit. Almost half of Americans say they check in on work while on vacation. Over a third say our constantly connected culture makes it difficult to stop thinking about work, even on days off.
“One-week vacations are too short to prevent burnout. By the time you relax enough not to think about the office, the week is almost up.”
Creating a vacation policy that encourages use
In light of all this, creating a vacation policy that all your employees use to the fullest sounds impossible. Even those “unlimited” vacation policies can backfire, causing employees to take less time off than before. Remember that perfection isn’t required for a successful PTO policy. Some proven practices can help:
- Make vacation mandatory. Do you want to make sure your employees take vacations? The most straightforward way to do that is simply to require it. This is one way some companies are fighting this issue. It’s particularly effective when combined with unlimited or discretionary vacation policies.
- Company closure. Many companies are closing their doors during major holidays. For example, between Christmas and New Year’s. During that time, business may lag and employees tend to be less productive.
- “Zero-contact” policy. Some companies forbid any form of communication while an employee is away. This way, they prevent vacation from turning into remote work. Bills are being introduced that make it illegal for employers to contact workers while on vacation or after hours.
- Cultural initiatives. An effective way to encourage vacation time is making it clear that it isn’t just okay to take time off. In fact, it’s bad behavior not to take it. Making time off a cultural keystone helps reduce the feelings of stress about job security and guilt about advancement. These feelings come with vacation, making it less likely that managers will pressure employees into overworking.
- Vacation reimbursement. Finally, there’s the idea of rewarding employees for taking time off with a stipend they only use for vacation. The paid-paid vacation policy at BambooHR is one example of this concept. While it might seem like a luxury, the benefits are numerous. For example, dramatically improving the quality of employees’ time away, and reducing financial worries for families with limited budgets. Not to mention that it’s a great recruiting tool.
We all need a vacation
We’re a hard-working nation, especially when you combine that work ethic with financial worries and work pressures. Unfortunately, that always-on culture got stronger over the last decade, making vacation an impossible dream for many of us. Now you understand how important vacation is for the health and wellness of people and companies. It’s utterly clear employees aren’t going to take time off on their own. It’s solely up to employers to help them. In the end, both will benefit.
In short, taking vacation time is more important than you think. Science says that, regardless of where you choose to go or whatever you do, maxing out vacation days matters. Your health and family life depends on them.
“Happiness consists of living each day as if it were the first day of your honeymoon and the last day of your vacation.”
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