Human Capital Management Blog

Strategies for HCM Professionals

Why employees aren’t taking vacation time, and what employers can do

vacationBy Deb LaMere, VP of Employee Engagement, Ceridian

One topic that’s talked about frequently in human capital management circles is the challenge of maximizing employee retention and productivity. Obviously, the more productive your staff can be, the more your business can achieve, but this doesn’t mean that forcing employees’ noses to the proverbial grindstone 24/7 is the best strategy. Sometimes, less time at the office is more.

The “work all the time” culture in today’s workforce has its drawbacks. Putting in too many hours can lead to stress, unhealthy diet and exercise habits and, eventually, burnout and disengagement with work. Counterintuitively, people might ultimately be more productive if they showed up to the office less.

This is precisely the reason that many employers have vacation time built into their employees’ contracts as a basic right. Taking days off is important, as it helps staff members to get some rest, some relaxation and a semblance of work/life balance.

I was recently quoted in an HR Dive article about this topic. The unfortunate truth about vacation days is that not enough employees today are taking them. This makes you wonder – why do we have this problem, and what can we do about it?

Time’s being left on the table
Employees are being given plenty of vacation days – that’s not the problem. The issue is that by and large, they’re not using them. According to a study by Project Time Off, 40 percent of workers left vacation time on the table in 2014. The untaken time added up to a total of 429 million days.

This is largely a product of the company culture in today’s offices. Employees are motivated primarily by competition and fear – they worry that if they take time off work, their rivals will get ahead of them.

Eden Elder, the chief people officer at FullContact, told HR Dive that she calls the vacation time problem “a fear-driven concept.”

“If I leave, it becomes known someone else can do my job,” she said.

Even though many companies have generous vacation time policies, company culture can easily get in the way of their success. Something has to be done about this.

What employers can do about the issue
Companies have a clear incentive to encourage vacation time among their employees. It’s a matter of improving employee restfulness and decreasing stress. If your business is committed to taking this step, though, you may have to tweak your infrastructure a bit to make it happen.

First of all, management needs to have a solid plan in place that supports employees when they take longer absences. Leaders should help their people to manage their workloads effectively – determining their key priorities, adjusting deadlines as necessary and getting help from colleagues.

A big part of this effort is about communication. Vacationing employees should know to brief everyone on their absence – managers, co-workers who cover for them, clients who depend on their work. This will help daily operations to continue smoothly and the company to deal with any emergencies that pop up during their absence.

Deb LaMere

Deb LaMere is Vice President of Employee Engagement at Ceridian.

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