Blog Post
Quick Read
January 4, 2017

Employees’ Unused Vacation Days: The Problems and Solutions

Table of Contents

A strong work ethic is certainly an admirable quality to have. But we live in a society that seems to glorify being busy – paying little mind to the reality that busy doesn’t necessarily mean productive. And while most people acknowledge that taking time to relax and rejuvenate is essential, it is also becoming increasingly difficult to do.

Thanks to the rapid proliferation of mobile devices and accumulating channels of communication, it is harder than ever to disconnect from work. Most of us do it mindlessly – checking email first thing in the morning, taking phone calls after business hours, etc. But just because you can work when you’re away from the office, doesn’t mean you always should – and this is something human capital management professionals need to work on addressing.

Rejecting relaxation
The more vacation days workers get, the less they use. This seems unlikely, yet it is the current reality, according to new research released by Project: Time Off. Last year, more than half (55 percent) of Americans didn’t use all their vacation time – which is strange considering nearly all (95 percent) agreed that using it was important to them.

At first glance, this may seem like a good thing for employers. But it’s actually a major issue – an expensive one at that. According to the report, the total number of unused vacation days in America, combined, equaled 658 million. This amounts to $223 billion in economic costs and over $61 billion in benefits being forgone every year.

The study pointed to research that shows vacations aid in the health and well-being of workers and ultimately help improve the performance and success of an organization. It also lowers stress levels which, in turn, can result in fewer sick days and reduce health care-related costs.

Why aren’t employees taking vacation?

The majority of factors contributing to unused vacation time fall into one of two categories: personal or professional. Reasons cited included not being able to afford a vacation and dreading an overwhelming amount of catch-up work. But a significant portion of workers also seem to be putting too much pressure on themselves.

They don’t want to be viewed as slackers – either by their employer or coworkers. The determination to get ahead may cause some to ignore that option to take vacation. But this approach can often have an adverse effect. The report showed that employees who took at least 11 vacation days were more likely to get a salary raise or compensation bonus over the past few years than those who took fewer than 10.

“Much of the pressure not to take vacation is self-motivated,” Project: Time Off Senior Program Director Katie Denis explained to SHRM. “And that’s exacerbated by our connectivity.”

Encouraging employee vacation time

In terms of the contributing factors employers are responsible for, the good news is that there are simple fixes. The majority of survey respondents named a lack of support from management as the cause of unused vacation days, with 80 percent indicating they would be more inclined to use the time off if they felt like their bosses genuinely encouraged it. Below are some tips employers can use to encourage workers to make use of their vacation days and, in turn, prevent burnout and improve production and performance.

  • Communicate clearly. According to The Society for Human Resource Management, there aren’t any federal or state laws requiring companies to offer paid vacation. Although many do, there is a lot of flexibility that organizations can leverage when it comes to implementing policies. Therefore, it is important businesses examine vacation policies and processes to ensure there is clear guidance on the subject.
  • Automate the request and approval process. To make it easier for employees to take advantage of vacation time, employers should implement an HCM solution that makes it quick and simple for workers to request paid time off – and for managers to approve it on the go. An HCM solutions also enables employees to see their accrued vacation time easily as a reminder to take time off!
  • Make sure the corporate culture promotes a healthy work-life balance. Encourage workers who are on paid time-off to enable an automatic “out-of-office” email reply. In addition, discourage them from doing any work-related tasks while on vacation. Also, remind employees who often stay late the importance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
  • Lead by example. If workers see their managers and leaders taking vacation time, it will help communicate to them that it’s okay for them to be doing the same.

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