06 Aug Vacation Time: A Necessary Treat
Did you know that Americans work longer hours than any other industrialized country in the world? A large part of that is due to the nationwide lack of vacation time. The U.S. is the only industrialized nation that doesn’t guarantee paid vacation time. And even when the option is provided, Americans often choose to forgo their paid time off. In fact, one study found that 55% of American workers don’t use all of their allotted paid vacation time. That’s largely because they feel guilty taking it. That’s right, more than half of the working U.S. population carries a sense of wrongfulness when it comes to taking time off. What’s more, these numbers have been on a steady incline for years.
Studies have shown that taking vacation time not only improves mental health, but also physical health. So why does our culture have this stigma around taking time off from work? While there are many factors at play, it’s partially due to how employers handle the situation within their company. Leaders have the ability to reframe the way vacation time is viewed, one organization at a time. Here are some things you can do to foster a more positive understanding of vacation time, and help your employees get rid of that nasty guilt.
Promote vacation time using facts and figures
A good company culture should promote wellness, and there’s no doubt that vacation time plays a big role in that. It’s been proven that taking a vacation from work can decrease anxiety, depression, and overall stress. Vacation time is also linked to physical improvements, especially related to heart health. Plus, it’s good for business, because it can significantly boost morale and improve productivity by as much as 80%. Not to mention that it can dramatically reduce the risk of burnout, which has recently been classified as an International Disease by the WHO (see our Burnout blog for more info). Try hosting an annual company-wide meeting to discuss the many benefits of taking vacation time, and let the facts do the convincing.
Lead by example
The best way to promote the utilization of vacation time is to take time off for yourself. By making it a personal priority, you show your employees that it’s okay for them to do the same. In fact, it’s encouraged. Use your actions to show your team that you believe in the benefits of taking a vacation. Pave the way for your employees to let go of the guilt that’s so often associated with taking time off. Share stories or even pictures from your vacation, and ask them what trips they have coming up. As a leader, you have the power to foster a positive mindset around taking a healthy amount of time off.
When you’re on vacation, be on vacation
Studies show that a whopping 70.4% of people check in with work regularly while they’re on vacation. Clearly, that’s a problem. This presents another opportunity for you to lead by example. Show your employees how it’s possible to completely unplug from work while on vacation. With the right preparations made in advance, there shouldn’t be any reason for you or your employees to be checking in during designated time off. To help your employees soak up the full benefits of vacation time, make it a point to not send them emails or slack messages unless it’s absolutely necessary. Odds are, if you shoot them an email while they’re away, they’re gonna open it. You can make it easier for them not to check in with work by not giving them anything to check in on. If you must send an email, use the scheduling feature to have it arrive in their email box after they return to the office.
I personally just got back from a wonderful vacation with my family at the beach on Topsail Island. As I soaked up the sun and the relaxing time with my husband and our kids, it got me thinking about how much I needed it. It’s easy to get swept up in the hustle bustle of work, and it’s important to remind ourselves that there’s so much more to life. I love my work, but I also love the ability to step away from it sometimes. It’s not easy, but I trust my team to man the ship while I’m away, recharging.
I’m seeing more and more companies come to this realization, and their actions are inspiring. For instance, I recently read that Hootsuite is shutting down the entire company for a whole week in the name of mental health. If more leaders took this initiative of prioritizing employee wellness, the world would be a better place.
Shaara Roman is founder and CEO of The Silverene Group, a culture consultancy that helps companies align their people programs with business goals.