The annual family vacation (once a mainstay of American life) has become a thing of the past.
We can, at least in part, blame Covid-19. Since the pandemic’s start, roughly 66% of the workforce has become remote—at least part-time. At the same time, according to a paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, the average workday has lengthened by nearly an hour.
Despite these longer hours, many Americans are also taking fewer and shorter vacations.
This failure to take full advantage of eligible time off takes a toll on employees and employers alike in the form of burnout. And while burnout is nothing new, it’s far more widespread than many people realize: a Gallup survey found that 23% of workers report being burned out often, while another 44% feel burnout sometimes.
That’s why vacation time is so essential.
THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF TIME OFF
Science has long shown that employees (and employers) are healthier and more productive when real breaks are taken throughout the year. For example, one study showed that employees slept better and were in a better mood after vacations—and the positive effects lasted over a month after returning to work.
Most famous, perhaps, is the Framingham Heart Study, a long-term study that started researching heart health back in 1948. The research has consistently shown a positive correlation between frequent vacations and longer, healthier lives.
Bottom line: If your employees aren’t taking their vacations, they’re putting themselves and your business at risk.
HOW DOES YOUR BUSINESS BENEFIT WHEN EMPLOYEES MAXIMIZE THEIR VACATION TIME?
Increased productivity. The number one personal and professional advantage of taking vacations is to remove yourself from the pressures of the job. Unfortunately, the inability to detach from work leads to burnout—which, as Professor Sabine Sonnentag at the University of Mannheim in Germany has shown—negatively impacts both well-being and productivity.
Dr. Sonnetag’s study shows that disengaging from work helps individuals feel more resilient in the face of stress and more productive and engaged at work. Even short weekend getaways can help (although longer trips away yield even more significant benefits).
That’s a boon to employees and organizations alike.
Heightened creativity. Research also suggests that vacation time—and travel in particular—can boost your levels of creativity. The mere suggestion of being removed from your day-to-day routine can lead to more creative thinking. For example, in an Indiana University study, groups assigned to solve puzzles demonstrated more innovative thinking when they thought the puzzles originated from a far-off destination (in this case, California) instead of their home state of Indiana.
And it doesn’t require distant travel to see results. Brain imaging studies show that the simple act of conscious relaxation—daydreaming, etc.—creates the kind of alpha waves that are key to creative insights. The key lies in exposing oneself to new and different experiences.
Fewer days lost to stress, sickness, and burnout. Employees who take paid time off are more productive, creative, and satisfied with their jobs. This not only helps reduce absenteeism and aid retention, but it can also help in recruiting. Satisfied employees solidify your business’s reputation as a place where employees feel valued, making your company more appealing to applicants.
HOW YOU CAN ENCOURAGE YOUR EMPLOYEES TO TAKE THEIR VACATION
It starts with you. Many employees feel like they shouldn’t use their vacation time if their boss never takes time off. So set an example by taking regular breaks throughout the year. You’ll not only avoid burnout yourself, but you’ll also help your employees do the same.
Formalize some structured downtime. There’s rarely a good time for a business to close its doors voluntarily. But when a company temporarily shuts down, whether it’s for a holiday or just a few days, it can provide employees who might otherwise resist the idea of a vacation to take some badly needed time away from the job.
Make it financially attractive. Depending on your vacation rollover structure, it can be costly to have an employee who doesn’t take their vacation. When they leave, you’re stuck paying for all those unused days. One way to avoid this is to offer a financial incentive. This not only motivates employees to take time to recharge their batteries, but it can also save you money in the long run.
For example—in 2014, the U.S. Travel Association began offering a $500 bonus to employees who used all of their vacation time. The result? The percentage of workers who took all their available days went from 19% to 91% in a single year. (And the organization reduced its financial liability from unused time off by more than $36,000.)
EMBRACING WORK-LIFE BALANCE
The hallmark of a successful business is not how many days an employee works each year. Instead, it’s how productive those days are—and how effectively an employer manages workloads to ensure a fresh, satisfied workforce.
Look at your own company’s vacation policies. Do they encourage employees to take much-needed time off? Or do they make employees feel limited in their self-care options? Take the opportunity to examine your company’s culture, training, and engagement practices to see if there’s a better way to harness the full potential of your team.
If you’d like help strategizing a policy that maximizes the health of your valued employees, the professional team at Health and Benefits Partners can help.