As the weather is finally starting to get nicer and spring is in the air, the idea of taking time off to relax and enjoy the sunshine is enticing. But, can it be done? Can anyone take leave from work anymore? Are some companies better than others at allowing time off?
The United States is the only advanced economy that does not guarantee its workers any paid vacation time according to a 2013 report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research. In fact, the nonprofit think tank found that almost one in four Americans receives no paid vacation or paid holidays and of those who do get paid time off, many do not take all of their vacation days. It is suggested that Americans may be nervous about being away from the office for too long at a time, and they are increasingly likely to extend a weekend rather than taking a full week off.
According to the chief executive of the U.S. Travel Association, company culture is often to blame. In a study the trade group conducted called “Overwhelmed America: Project Time off”, it found that while over 90 percent of managers and employees said that a vacation/travel was important to recharging batteries, and to improving health and relationships, 67 percent of employees reported that their bosses don’t encourage taking vacations or give mixed messages about taking time off. The group also found out that 40 percent of respondents said they don’t take all their accrued vacation time because they’re afraid of the sheer volume of work they’ll have to face when they get back. Another 35 percent said that, due to downsizing or restructuring, they were the only one who could do their job. And almost a quarter of respondents said they were afraid of losing their jobs if they took a vacation. Interestingly, the millennials, are the least likely segment to leave vacation days unused. They tend to use their vacation time to travel thereby spending their money on experiences rather than material goods.
Recently, Glassdoor completed an online company review survey and got employees to voluntarily share what their company is like when it comes to work-life balance. Not surprising, having more control over their time, in one form or another, topped the wish list of employees in Glassdoor’s fair-pay survey. In addition, more women than men want flex time and work from home, but the most valued perk was more vacation time. More than 60 percent of survey respondents would claim that benefit if they could. They identified 25 companies that stood out for work-life balance issues. Some such as Chevron, Kaiser Permanente, SAS, Citrix, Mitre, Scottrade, Agilent Technologies, Nokia, Morningstar, and Orbitz were cited by workers for their vacation and personal day policies, flex-time options, telecommuting arrangements, and workplace cultures.
Similarly, in a 2015 Fortune article, it was noted that increasingly more firms are offering time off or even sabbaticals (a week to a year) to employees. These periods of paid time off are often used for travel, volunteering, education, spending with family, or some combination . The idea is to help employees reset and come back rejuvenated and refreshed.
Payscale.com found that companies with more time off include those that also offer higher pay. However, more money doesn’t always guarantee more days to relax. Some high-salary jobs come with limited time off, especially when the job responsibilities can spill over into evenings and weekends or you are constantly on call.
Some companies are now offering unlimited paid time off or vacation bonuses to entice their employees to get some rest. Subscription video service Netflix was one of the first companies to offer its employees unlimited paid vacation as long as they got their work done. As executives noted, their firm has no interest in monitoring employees’ hours, either at work or away from the office. Unlimited vacation is a rare benefit, but not unheard of. Zynga, FullContact, Groupon, Glassdoor, Evernote, HubSpot, Motley Fool, Eventbrite, and SurveyMonkey all have unlimited vacation policies, according to a report by CNNMoney.com. At these firms, the expectation is that employees will still be responsible enough to do their work. Interestingly, most American workers still do not use all of their paid vacation days. Even away from the office, employees can still choose to be on their technology.
So, if we know that taking time off is critical for employee well-being and health, how can we ensure that firms create a corporate culture that supports taking time off?
• Make sure your senior leaders communicate the benefits of taking paid time off to employees. These could include: relaxing/recharging; engaging in fun activities; and de-stressing to avoid burnout
• Leaders at all levels need to support and encourage employees to take time off
• Senior leaders need to serve as model and take time off themselves. If they are always “connected” and working themselves, employees will get mixed messages and will fear that they too need to stay connected.
• Make it easier and more transparent of a process. Some employees have noted that it is so difficult to get approval for their time off that it is not worth the bother.
• Survey employees to continually monitor how they view taking time off. Do they see it as rewarded or punished, and is their perception in keeping with the firm’s values?
After the brutal winter that many of us faced, it is really important for employees to be able to take their vacation time (all of it) and get totally away from the office. They need to relax, recharge, and remember what they loved about the job and company in the first place. If senior leaders can help employees accomplish that, they will be rewarded with more motivated and engaged employees.
Joyce E. A. Russell is the vice dean at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business and the Director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management. She can be reached at email@example.com.