Technology may have changed the way workers vacation, with some staying plugged in in to office, some continuing to monitor and respond to email and some unplugging completely, leaving explicit instructions for others and leaving their mobile devices off.
What hasn’t changed is that there is a business need to take vacation, even if it’s a few three-day weekends at a time. There are reasons aplenty: to avoid burnout, to come back to work refreshed, or to spend time with loved ones who might have been neglected during busy season or a time-consuming project. What some organisations are starting to understand is this: Taking time off is better for business in the long run.
Research supports reasons why employees – from managing partner to entry-level accountant – should take regular vacations and why it is beneficial to business.
- They set expectations for how vacationers should be treated: The leader who sets the expectation that he or she is not going to check in with the office is showing that others should feel free to disconnect during their vacation. Checking email on vacation is a difficult habit to break. Setting boundaries and communicating those boundaries and living up to them – if you don’t check email while you are on vacation, people will figure that out, and they won’t expect you to. Those sorts of expectations can help build an organisation’s culture – that vacation is not frowned upon and it’s not to be interrupted.
- Better culture makes you a more desired employer: Employees are, more than ever, seeking balance between work and home life. That includes the ability to take time off. Companies that promote and encourage life/work balance is going to be a preferred company to work for in the future and will attract better talent.
- Model the behaviour, and workers will follow: Many people are not good at taking their allotted vacation, leaving some vacation days unused. However, leaving paid time off unused doesn’t result in a better chance to earn a raise or bonus than those who took all their time off. Partial-week vacations became more common than full-week vacations in the mid-1990s, but now the instances of both are declining. Managers who take vacation set the standard that employees should take vacation. Research supports what many of us already know: When we don’t take vacation, our work ends up suffering.
- Vacation helps workers avoid productivity declines: Research shows residual effects on workers who fail to take scheduled time off – and on their co-workers. That failure has the potential to lead to worker burnout, which can produce more unscheduled absences. Those types of absences cost companies more money than planned time off. A study in the US showed that 69% of workers said that unplanned absences of others added to their workload, 61% said they increased stress, and 48% said they hurt employee morale. The same research showed that planned absences resulted in a 22,6% productivity loss, while unplanned absences produced a 36,6% decline in productivity. Studies show that working long hours can lead to health problems and can bring on sleeplessness, more consumption of alcohol, and depression. “Long working hours may have a negative effect on cognitive performance in middle age,” one study concluded. And then there’s the anecdotal evidence that workers know when they’re in need of a break.
- Requiring vacation reduces instances of fraud: Some regulatory bodies recommend that employees take two consecutive weeks of vacation and that workers’ tasks be handed over to peers. Organisations that implement mandatory vacation or job rotation policies are less likely to be victims of fraud, according to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) as embezzlements usually require a perpetrator’s ongoing presence to manipulate records, respond to inquiries, and otherwise prevent detection. The ACFE said that the median amount lost to fraud was reduced 47,6% in instances where organisations had a vacation or job rotation control in place, and the length of time the fraud continued was 44,4% shorter when such a control was in place.
- Requiring vacation can reduce balance sheet liability: Most organisations don’t allow vacation to accrue in perpetuity any longer, in part because it could come back to hurt them financially. If a company has a use-it-or-lose-it policy, meaning workers must take allotted vacation within the organisation’s fiscal year, then the liability of unused vacation time is zero. Most organisations have use-it-or-lose-it policies or limit the hours that can be carried over to the next year. Organisations that allow staff to accrue months of vacation time over many years will take a hit when a worker leaves and is paid for the accrued months.