A Business Case for (Real) Vacation Time

August 24, 2017 Sarah Payne

Vacation Bus

As painful as it is to admit, summer is quickly coming to a close. Kids are gearing up to go back to school (and some may be back already). I’m about to trade in my iced coffees for pumpkin spiced lattes. And for many of us, work is about to kick into high gear come September.

While the seasonal transition can be exciting if you’ve taken time away from work to recharge and refresh, you should also reflect on how your company handles vacations and time off. Do people openly talk about their vacation plans? Are managers flexible and accommodating when it comes to approving time off? Do executives lead by example and unplug while on vacation? How your company handles time off speaks volumes about your culture.

Project: Time Off surveyed 7,331 American workers, age 18+, who work more than 35 hours a week and receive paid time off from their employer. Two thirds of employees reported they feel their company culture is ambivalent, discouraging, or sends mixed messages about time off. And when employees don’t feel comfortable taking time off, they simply don’t take it.

Amazingly, Project: Time Off estimates there were 206 million forfeited days (can’t be rolled over, banked, or paid out) last year. This equates to $66.4 billion in benefits left on the table – or that employees essentially donated an average of $604 in work time to employers. Is that time well spent? Not necessarily.

The same survey finds 83% of employees want to be seen as a work martyr by their boss. The problem is work martyrs are less likely to receive a raise or a promotion and are more likely to experience stress at work and at home.

In an interview with Globoforce, WorkHuman 2015 speaker Brigid Schulte shared poignant insight on how a more human workplace respects the need for play and leisure:

… work is only one dimension of a rich and full life. You recognize that human beings need love, that human beings need time to care for their families, that human beings need time to rest, recharge, and to feel fully alive. And you see that a well-rounded, authentic employee is of higher value to the workplace because they’ll have the mental, physical and emotional energy to be efficient and productive, to forge trusting relationships with other workers and communicate clearly for better teamwork, and, by being exposed to the wider world outside of work, perhaps they’ll bring fresh ideas, new perspectives and have greater opportunity for insight.

Indeed, research strongly supports the idea that time off can lead to higher levels of creativity and success. Neuroscientist and psychiatrist Nancy Andreasen found when people engaged in undirected mental activity, as opposed to purposeful memory tasks, the most active parts of their brain were in the association cortex, which is linked to creative thought. What’s more, people who take more vacation time are more likely to receive a raise or a bonus.

So did your employees have a productive summer? Did you encourage them to shut off their email and go explore somewhere new?

One way to encourage employees to take time for themselves is through a social recognition program that offers reward choice. Here’s how it works: employees receive recognition for demonstrating company values. There is a reward tied to that recognition, which employees can redeem for something that’s meaningful to them.

Last year, I wrote about how I took a trip to Iceland to run the Reykjavik half marathon by redeeming my recognition points on Globoforce’s global rewards network. This year I used my points for two different trips (which were a bit more low key, as I’m expecting a baby this December!). In July, I took a trip to Valencia, Spain, to visit my sister, who is working remotely in Europe for the summer. And just a few weeks back, I visited Nantucket for the first time. We drove a Jeep right on the beach to the Great Point Lighthouse and even spotted a shark fin!

I asked my colleagues how they used their recognition rewards and got some great responses:

  • Camping gear supplies for the family
  • Disney gift cards for a family trip
  • Hotel, flights, and car rentals for two trips to Florida
  • Hotel stay for a family trip to Williamsburg, Virginia

I love how everyone was excited to share how they used their rewards and that almost everyone used their rewards to spend more time with their family. Having time to recharge and pursue non-work activities in this way is linked to a more positive employee experience, according the Globoforce/IBM Employee Experience Index. In fact, there is a 35 percentage point difference in employee experience when employees have an opportunity to recharge when they are not at work.

What did you do with your time off this summer? What is the culture like at your organization when it comes to paid vacation time? Share with us in the comments!


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