[Written for Replicon blog]
While 96 percent of Americans recognize the value of vacation days, over 40 percent don’t use them, according to a 2014 study. In fact, use of vacation days in the U.S. is at an all-time low for the past 40 years. This means we lose around 169 million PTO days annually — which is about $52.4 billion in forfeited benefits.
This may sound like an employer’s dream, but it’s not. Employees who don’t take time to recharge risk burnout, chronic sleep deprivation, and lower job performance, and are also more prone to sickness and depression.
With so much research encouraging vacation, why do Americans continue to squander their PTO? Below are the top six reasons your employees don’t take their vacation days:
1. Fear of returning to a mountain of work
According to the Project: Time Off study, this was the most common reason employees listed for avoiding vacation. When the result of a week off is a staggering amount of work upon returning, it’s not totally unreasonable for employees to be skeptical about the overall benefits of taking their PTO.
As an employer, it’s important to try to mitigate this as much as possible. Make a point of meeting with employees the day they return to help establish their priorities for the coming week. Try implementing a three-day grace period — prioritize one or two more time-sensitive tasks for the first three days of an employee’s return, and allow them to address the rest of their catch-up at a more leisurely pace.
2. Fear of being seen as replaceable
Lingering job insecurity is an unfortunate consequence of recently tough economic times. There are many ways to address it head on, but if you’re seeing a correlation between job insecurity and unused PTO, then you must first combat the idea that taking a vacation is a replacement-worthy offense. Talk to your HR department — ensure that an overview of vacation policies is part of your onboarding process. The more forthcoming you are with PTO information, the less likely your employees are to see it as frowned upon.
3. Wanting to show job dedication
As a company, you want to try to value performance over presence. If just 10 vacation hours can increase an employee’s performance review by an average of eight percent, then upper management should emphasize vacation as a crucial element of optimal performance. While being at work is important, a good way for employees to show their dedication is to use their allotted PTO to take care of themselves and recharge.
4. Company culture discourages vacation
Lack of communication about vacation policy, a negative vibe toward vacation, and senior-level management that never takes time off can all deter employees from feeling comfortable using PTO. In the Overwhelmed America Study, two-thirds of employees reported getting negative, confusing, or no communication regarding PTO policy.
There are many ways to change the company culture regarding vacation days — have employees share vacation photos at company meetings, reward the employee of the month with round trip tickets, revisit the vacation policy language in your employee handbook, take a vacation yourself, hire a wellness coach to speak on stress relief and time off. In touting the benefits of PTO, you can empower your employees to care for themselves, and thus improve their performance in the workplace.
5. Inability to disconnect
When nearly half (46 percent) of senior business leaders continue responding to emails while on vacation, employees might feel pressure to do the same. If you’re on the beach taking calls and answering emails, this suggests that vacation is not an excuse to be unavailable.
The best way to combat this mindset is to lead by example! Take a vacation, set an automatic “out of office” response email, and tell your employees only to call you in case of emergency.
For companies with roll-over vacation days, employees can justify putting off vacation for years. Studies have shown that a use-it-or-lose-it PTO policy can incentivize employees, with 84 percent of surveyed employees planning on using all their vacation days before they expire. When given roll-over PTO, only 48 percent of those surveyed planned on using all their vacation days for the year.
With the holiday season upon us, now is the time to reevaluate the way your company treats vacation days, and encourage those who haven’t yet to take advantage of their PTO. For more information on choosing the best vacation policy for your company, click here.