Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Vacation (all I ever wanted) — 7 tips to encourage your employees to use their paid time off

"AITA for turning my work phone off on vacation?" That's the question that someone recently posted on the eponymous subreddit.

The recently promoted employee disconnected during his vacation. During a moment of downtime, he powered up his work phone, only to find this voicemail from his new manager, demanding to know why he wasn't zooming in for meetings.
I checked my phone voicemail and the unknown number was him saying he "hoped there was a damn good excuse for why I was off the grid" if I wanted to keep my job. He even started out the voicemail with "I'm so sorry you’re in the hospital because that's the only reason I should be needing to hunt you down like this." In slack I had a few dms from coworkers I feel I get along with saying I need to reply ASAP because my absence was impacting them with how mad our boss was.
No, he's not the a***ole.

I've always been a strong believer in vacations. Yet, it seems I'm very much in the minority. Pre-pandemic, only 23% of employees used all of their vacation time or paid time off … and an astoundingly sad 9% took no paid time off at all, according to a Glassdoor survey. On average, American workers leave almost half of their paid time off unused, totaling 768 million unused days. This is simply unacceptable. 

Your employees need to take vacations. They lead to improved productivity, lower stress, better mental health, and happier employees. 

You should absolutely be encouraging your employees to use their vacation time. How do you accomplish this goal? Here are 7 suggestions:
  1. Make available for all employees a meaningful vacation benefit.

  2. Do not permit employees to roll over unused vacation days and do not pay them out at year's end. This benefit should be use-it-or-lose-it. Otherwise, you risk employees not using it on an annual basis.

  3. Allow employees to disconnect while on vacation. A vacation will not achieve its therapeutic goal if employees are required to check-in via email or participate in conference calls. If your workplace is not sufficiently cross-trained and your employees are not team players to permit this level of disconnection, then you have bigger problems you need to address.

  4. Teach your employees the health and wellness benefits of taking a vacation. Make it a part of your wellness education. If employees understand that vacations lead to improved performance, increased productivity, less stress, and greater mental health and overall happiness, they will be more likely to leave work behind for a few days.

  5. Prohibit vacation shaming. No one should be permitted to discourage employees from taking a vacation or to tease employees who do take a vacation. If you send or permit negative messages about vacations, your employees won't take them. They will fear letting the team down or the time off impacting their employment. This form of bullying cannot and should not be tolerated.

  6. Ease employee back to work. When asked why they don't take time off, most employees cite the fear of returning to a backlog of work and thousands of emails to which to respond. Plan for coverage when employees are out, and provide a day upon their return for catch-up, so that they won't fear the return-to-work ambush or avalanche.

  7. Take your own time off. If the boss never takes a vacation, employees won't either. If you want your employees to take time away from work, do so yourself. Leadership and messaging start at the top. If you make vacations a priority, your employees will, too.

After two years of pandemic living, all of us are burned out. Vacations are more important than ever. Make sure your employees understand this and use their time off accordingly. A please, don't be that boss.

This week's episode of The Norah and Dad Show is all about vacations. Listen to it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, in your internet browser, and everywhere else podcasts are available.