On the flight back from a recent trip to the Bahamas, feeling refreshed and reenergized, I found myself thinking about how both employers and employees can maximize the benefits of vacation.
Americans are particularly bad about using our vacation time compared to residents of other countries. In fact, when summarizing research on the use of vacation time, journalist Tonya Mohn reports that "Americans left an average of 3.2 paid time off days unused in 2013, totaling 429 million unused days for U.S. workers." The reasons people report not using their vacation days vary from not feeling supported by management to being supported by management but feeling like they have too much work to piled up to take the time.
This is unfortunate because both the health and economic benefits of taking vacation time are well documented. Taking vacation time is associated with greater experience of positive emotions, lower depression and better health outcomes. In fact, Gump and Matthews report that in middle-aged men taking vacations is associated with lower mortality rates, especially from death due to coronary heart disease. Additionally, employees who are better rested and healthier are less likely to leave leading to reduced turnover.
Given the proven benefits of taking vacation time, maximizing these benefits should be on the minds of both employers and employees. Below I give some suggestions for increasing use of vacation time and for making the most of the time off.
What Employers Can Do
Make sure employees are aware of vacation policies and encourage them to use their vacation time. You may even wish to provide access to travel agencies or vacation planning sites.
Offer a vacation stipend for those who use their vacation time. CNN reports that a benefits survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management found that around 3% of companies offer their employees a stipend to offset the cost of vacation when they use their vacation time. This perk will encourage employees to plan trips and make the most of their vacation benefits.
Encourage employees to plan ahead and let others know in advance when they'll be gone so that any major work can be finished before hand. Also encourage groups to have a plan of action for handling new work or work hiccups when someone is out on vacation to keep interruptions to the vacationer to a minimum.
What Employees Can Do
Plan ahead! Give advance notice to your group and manager so that you can plan a smooth transition leading up to your time away. Realize that you will never really feel like there is a good time to take a vacation, but go anyway! You will be a better employee after you've had time to relax and enjoy yourself.
Set expectations before you go. Let your coworkers and manager know when you will and will not be available, as well as how hot the fire has to be before you should be contacted to help put it out! Everyone has a different comfort level for being disconnected from the office. Very conscientious employees may only feel comfortable leaving if they are able to receive regular updates. Others may only feel truly rejuvenated if they able to drop off the grid for a week or two. Decide what works for your personality and set clear expectations.
Return rested and ready to work with fun stories to share and encourage others to do the same!