Give Me a Break: Is Your Employee Vacation Policy Impacting Your Turnover Rates?

Now that the summer is officially here, employees all around the nation are planning to take vacations with their families… at least, some of them are. While a 2017 Glassdoor report revealed that the average American worker used only 54% of their eligible paid vacation time in the past year, that’s not necessarily because they don’t want to get away. Many feel pressure from their employers or managers to forgo their earned time off — a practice that’s often known as “vacation shaming.” But the reality is that this practice is to the detriment of both employer and employee. And if you want to encourage valued members of your team to stick around, you might want to start motivating them to go on a trip.

A new survey released by O.C. Tanner revealed that employees who take a week or more of vacation time are more engaged in their jobs than those employees who don’t use their vacation days. There are positive correlations found between vacation days and work ethic, as well as engagement. Approximately 70% of those employees who take a week or more of vacation say they’re motivated to contribute to the success of their organization; around 55% of those who don’t use their vacation days can say the same. In addition, 65% of those who take a week off feel strongly about working for their employer a year from now, but only 51% of employees who refrain from taking vacation time feel the same way. A greater percentage of employees who use their vacation days say they feel a sense of belonging at their organization than those who skip out on vacations, as well. Considering that 57% of organizations view employee retention as a problem, these numbers are significant.

But unfortunately for both businesses and workers, there’s a lot of pressure to opt out of vacation time. Many employees feel guilty about taking time off, whether it be due to their own anxieties about coming back to heavy workloads or passive-aggressive comments from managers. And then, of course, there’s the chance that if an employee does submit a time-off request, it could be rejected.

It’s more common than you might think, according to a new study released by The Workforce Institute at Kronos Incorporate. Their data showed that 47% of employees have had time-off requests denied by their employers within the last year. Of those, one in four said their vacation requests were denied and one in five said they weren’t allowed to use personal or vacation time. Around 10% said their employers actually rejected their bereavement requests. Most often, the employees who dealt with denied requests worked in public safety, retail, manufacturing, and healthcare. Around 45% of employees around the world blame their managers when their time-off requests are denied, which certainly isn’t good news for company culture and employee engagement. Even worse may be the fact that 31% of employees worldwide believe their manager doesn’t care if they burn out (that number is around 27% in just the U.S.), but 29% of employees say they’re currently approaching a state of burnout. Less than half of all employees believe that preventing employee burnout is a priority for their employer. And when employees don’t feel their well-being is valued, it’s no surprise they may look for work elsewhere.

Even if employees do stick around without their vacation time, they’re bound to be less productive and less enthusiastic about the work they do in general. They might be prone to making mistakes or wasting company time and money. Instead of trying to discourage employees from taking a well-deserved vacation, you should consider creating a culture that actually promotes using those vacation days. Creating a very clear vacation policy — perhaps one that contains a minimum of vacation days to use, rather than a maximum — will show employees you’re serious about their health and happiness. Some companies make vacations mandatory, while others offer unlimited or untracked vacation time to allow employees to use time off as needed. Your company could also create a cap on the amount of vacation time employees can earn so that they use these days off before they can earn more or keep employees from carrying vacation time over so that they take regular time off. You might even instill fake holidays just for your workers or offer annual trip giveaways for employees. Although only 3% of U.S. households own a timeshare for vacation purposes and trips can be pricey, your encouragement could make all the difference in easing employee stress and vacation shaming in the workplace.

That said, it’s not only your policies that need to be examined. Make sure managers are taking their vacation times too and that employees of every level are not working while they’re off the clock. Do not praise those who answer work emails during their vacations or make negative comments that could dissuade employees from taking time off for their mental health or to spend a week with their families. These small points may seem inconsequential to you, but the truth is that they could mean the difference between an engaged, happy employee and one who’s headed for burnout and hunting for other jobs.

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