If you can’t remember your last vacation, you may be part of the 52% of Americans who don’t take all of their earned vacation time each year.
According to the US Travel Association’s Project:Time Off State of the American Vacation report, there has been a downward trend since 2000 in the amount of time American workers have been taking off from work. From 1978–2000, workers took an average of 20.3 days of vacation annually before beginning a steady decline. In 2014, Americans hit an all-time low, taking just 16 days of vacation. And in 2018, the average American employee took 17.2 days of vacation.
While many Americans working at least 35 hours a week could be earning 3 weeks or more of vacation time each year, more than half are only taking 2 weeks. And of those 2 weeks, according to the Project:Time Off report, only 8 days are being used for travel. In other words, not only are we not using all of our vacation time, but potentially half of that is being used while staying at home.
So why are we giving up almost a week of our vacation time every year? Do we want to be perceived as more productive? Irreplaceable? Are we working in a company culture that discourages time off?
The Benefits of Taking a Vacation
Successfully planning for and taking vacation days shows you can plan for upcoming time off by delegating your responsibilities and wrapping up or getting ahead of on-going projects. Competence in managing your responsibilities, clear communication of what tasks need to be covered while you’re away, and empowering yourself and others to get the work done are all essential traits of a good leader. While 61% of Americans listed “looking replaceable” as a barrier to taking more of their vacation time, the data proves just the opposite.
The truth is, you are more likely to receive a raise or a promotion if you take your vacation days than if you don’t. According to the Harvard Business Review and Project:Time Off, “People who took fewer than 10 of their vacation days per year had a 34.6% likelihood of receiving a raise or bonus in a 3-year period of time. People who took more than 10 of their vacation days had a 65.4% chance of receiving a raise or bonus.”
But What If You’re the Boss?
Vacation days are just as important for the CEO as they are for employees. No matter the size of your business, the best bosses lead by example. While loyalty, sincere enthusiasm, and dedication to the company’s bottom line are laudable traits in both business owners and their employees, expecting your employees never to take a vacation is not. Not taking time away from work sends a signal to employees that they can’t either.
Just taking the vacation days may not be enough. According to the US Travel Association, “40% of employees say they either are not sure or do not think their company wants them to use all the vacation time they earn.” More than 6-in-10 employees say their company “discourages, sends mixed messages, or says nothing about vacation time.”
Creating a company culture where vacation time is used and celebrated starts at the top. With the increase in alternative vacation opportunities, find out what your employees are doing when they leave. Are they volunteering abroad? Learning a new language or a new skill? Did they go on a runcation, a yoga retreat, an outdoor adventure, or local staycation?
Ask employees about recent vacations, talk about it in meetings, celebrate the new perspective their time away may have garnered. Make sure your employees know that the company values their vacation time. Why offer them the ability to earn vacation days if you don’t encourage them to use them?
How to Encourage Vacations
One tactic employers can try is to institute more company-wide days off than just federally-mandated holidays. For example, according to Glassdoor reviews, LinkedIn closes for the entire week of the 4th of July and the week after Christmas. These policies have the additional benefit of allowing employees that are part-time, or not earning PTO for another reason, time off without being penalized.
“Use it lose it” PTO policies are another way to encourage employees to use their time off. Reminding employees in spring and fall to make use of their time off can help foster a culture of using vacation days.
Why Use Your Vacation Days?
Taking a vacation can bring employees back to the workplace refreshed, energized, and even healthier. The ability to detach from work is important to avoid burn-out by employees. Employees that are happy with their employers are less likely to leave, which in turn can cut down on the costs generated by higher employee turn-over.
All of this leads to the ultimate question of why. Why should we be taking our vacation days? Why should we be cultivating a company culture of using vacation days? While there are many good reasons listed above, the one thing that all the data agrees on is this: happier employees are more productive employees. And more productive employees should be every company’s goal.