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Why Aren’t Your Employees In Love With Time Off?

Americans leave 430 million paid vacation days on the table annually, but it doesn’t need to be as hard or as big of a deal as we think it is.

We’re going to take this from two perspectives:

  • The employee one
  • The HR Decision Maker

They’re actually going to come together and meet in the middle. It’ll be fun.

The Employee Side of the Equation

Meet Brad Feld. He’s a VC/investor, and also writes for Fast Company and generally seems like a smart, well-connected dude.

Guess what? A year or two ago, he took 1 month off.

Not 1 week, yo.

1 month.

Here’s his breakdown of it:

I find it incomprehensible that I’ve never taken a break like this before. Given my comfort with one-week off-the-grid vacations, it was easy to just disconnect and leave everything in my partners’ hands. I trust them completely and having already been through the one month off cycle with each of them earlier in the year, I knew that whenever something came up, good decisions would be made and things would be handled.

As a result, I feel like I’ve completely reset my brain. I read what I wanted – I had over 200 books on my Kindle – so I just picked randomly when I didn’t have “next book” in mind. Some of the business books were skimmers and I only dropped out of one fiction book a quarter way through because I lost interest. The rest was like being transported to the magical reading planet.

Remember: this is an important, well-connected guy that a lot of others rely on. And he took a full month off. So why isn’t something like that more normative?

The Research-Laden Value of a Work Vacation

The Ladders has a post on this, which includes this:

Low performers only took 14 days of vacation on average while top performers took 19 days off. What this data shows is that taking that afternoon off or extending your weekend may not seem like a lot, but it will have a lasting impact.

This idea is paradoxical to many, but it makes sense if you think about. Rest and recharge for five more days per year, and you’ll probably extend your performance in the process. Emotional burnout at work is a very, very real concept for many, especially in an age of mobile connectivity and so many platforms to check.

Then you’ve got this: “psychologically detach” from work for 20 or so days a year and you’ll report more happiness; and those who take a vacation are actually more likely to get a raise.

So, degrees of research seems to back up this whole work vacation deal.

Why Aren’t More Employees Taking Vacations, Then?

Pretty simple. See:

At that intersection, a work vacation fades slowly into the background.

“What if Johnson jumps me in the hierarchy and I lose my perch?” Etc.

Many people do think this way about work.

So What’s the Issue?
  • Money, as vacations are expensive — and more so as you grow your family
  • The Temple of Busy stuff above
  • How we relate to and think about work

Can we fix this? Maybe, but it would need to happen at an individual level. You’d need to help your teams realize that a work vacation could refresh and recharge the,, so maybe they’d return to work with new, even “innovative” ideas. To me, that explains the raise research.

But humans tend to approach a lot of decision-making from a place of fear, and that’s the issue with work vacations.

The place of fear would be “this person is going to jump me” or “There’s just no time.”

The place of reality should be “This is good for my friends/family/myself.”

But fear oftentimes > reality.

What can HR Decision Makers do About This?

A few things:

  • Understand what the research is saying: Essentially, people taking more vacations will lead to more productivity. People staying in your offices all year probably will not. We all know there is work that needs to be done and targets that need to be hit, but not everyone needs to be there all the time in order for that to be done.
  • Encourage vacations among your employees: Perhaps even spotlight busy and less-busy times of year for their silo/department and encourage them to consider a vacation then.
  • Figure out the best tracking system: There needs to be a process and logistics, sure.
  • Incentivize time off: This might sound paradoxical, but if you can rest/recharge your people and get better ideas from them, why not incentivize them to rest and recharge? Maybe there’s a small bonus and you’re only eligible if you used at least 2 weeks of vacation that year.
  • Train managers better: Managers shouldn’t run their teams according to scarcity thinking, because that limits the ability of people to want to take vacations. Train managers to be more supportive and operate from a coaching mindset — less from an “all hands on deck all the time or else” model — so that employees feel more psychologically comfortable with the idea of being detached from work.

What else might you add on the whole concept of a work vacation and its decreasing nature?

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Rejean Martin

Rejean is the Marketing Manager at PurelyHR but some people also know him as the guy who lived in a bus in the prairies. As a world traveller and nature lover, Rejean can strongly attest to the power of time off in the workplace.

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