By: Mary Ellen Nessmith, MPA
Ready or not, summer is upon us. Memorial Day and 4th of July – both very popular holidays Americans used to plan to vacation. What has happened in recent years? According to an Oxford Economics report, Americans let 169 million vacation days go to waste in 2013. That massive total added up to a whopping $52.4 billion worth of unused paid vacation (Oxford Report 2014). Unsurprisingly, the 77% of American workers who don't take at least a week off to relax experience higher stress levels (Pantazi, C. 2014).
Why is utilizing vacation time imperative?
It seems simple why we should take vacations: it is fun, relaxing and allows you to spend time with loved ones. The issue is more complex. It is critical to your health and well-being. Vacation promotes creativity, prevents burn-out, strengthens relationships, and improves job performance. One study found that three days after vacation, subjects’ physical complaints, their quality of sleep and mood had improved compared to before vacations. These gains were present 5 weeks later (Scott, E. 2014). The acute effects of stress can develop into long-term health problems. Research suggests that even failure to recover from stressful workdays can propel shorter-term effects of stress, like increased heart rate and fatigue, into more chronic conditions like high blood pressure (Obeidallah D. 2012). Not only do vacations benefit your work ability they directly benefit your family. Vacations allow families to abandon their daily routines, experience educational opportunities for both young and adult families’ members, and take advantage of time-outs to explore nature and create memorable bonding experiences (Gerstein, O. 2011).
The importance of vacation seems very clear for the employees, but why is it significant to employers? American workers universally (96%) recognize the importance of using their paid time off (PTO), but four in ten workers (41%) say they will not use some of their time in 2014. A closer examination of these findings reveals that companies that encourage their workers to take PTO have happier, healthier, and more productive employees (Project Time off Fact Sheet: Overwhelmed in America 2014). Unused vacation time also presents a potential cost to employers every single year. Employers carry unused PTO (Paid Time Off) days as a liability on their balance sheets—and this liability steadily accrues, year after year. When an employee leaves the organization, much of that unused PTO must be paid out to the worker. This “PTO liability” ties up billions in capital that could be invested in expansion opportunities, new products and equipment, research and development, or employee recruitment, training or retention programs (Oxford, 2014).
How can we improve?
Do not leave vacation time unused. It is good for you and you avoid giving away a portion or your
- More than three consecutive days off is the recommended time amount to receive the most benefit.
- Know there is value in staycations, day trips and any type of time away from the office.
- Unplug from office for all or part of your vacation.
Lead by example: leadership should take vacations and make it a part of the company culture.
- Cross train employees to prepare for when coworkers are absent, this will decrease employee stress levels.
- Communicate how important time off is to be a successful productive employee
Gerstein, Offra, Ph.D (2011). The Family Who Vacations Together Bonds Together. Retrieved from: http://www.relationshipmatters.com/the-family-who-vacations-together-bonds-together/
Oxford Economics September 2014. All Work and No Pay: The Impact of Forfeited Time Off. Retrieved from http://www.projecttimeoff.com/sites/projecttimeoff.com/files/AllWorkNoPay_AmEx_P.TO_.pdf
Obeidallah, D. (2012). Take your vacation, or die? Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/13/opinion/obeidallah-vacation-health/index.html
Pantazi, C. (2014). Americans Wasted 169 Million Vacation Days Last Year. Retrieved from http://www.thrillist.com/travel/nation/vacation-and-paid-time-off-americans-wasted-169-billion-vacation-days-last-year
Scott, E. (2014). The Importance of Vacations, for Stress Relief, Productivity and Health. Retrieved from: http://stress.about.com/od/workplacestress/a/vacations.htm