We’re deep into spring, the time when cubicle-bound employees may be planning their escape and vying for prime spots on the time-off calendar. Or maybe they’re so busy with the daily grind that they don’t even dream of walks on the beach or majestic mountain views.
When it comes to time off, HR professionals deal with two kinds of problems: the employees who take their time off as soon as they earn it and are always looking for ways to wheedle an extra day whenever possible and the workers who haven’t taken a vacation in years and have no plans to do so.
It’s not just the often-absent worker who presents a productivity problem. Burned-out employees also are unable to give their best. They may think they’re dedicated and diligent. But instead they’re likely to be frazzled and frayed.
Various surveys have shown for years that many Americans never take all the time off they have earned. One such survey from talent and career management firm Right Management found that 70 percent of those surveyed didn’t take all the time off they had earned during 2012. The 2011 version of the survey also showed 70 percent of workers not taking all their vacation time.
“Such a reluctance to take all of one’s vacation is a sign of an intense, pressure-filled workplace,” Monika Morrow, a Right Management senior vice president, said when the 2012 results were announced in December. “This is a trend that’s grown during the recession, and we may in fact have a new norm, which would be unfortunate. However important devotion to the job may be, there has to be some balance and vacation is so important to one’s health and happiness.”
Mike Maslanka, a partner with Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLP in Dallas, agrees. In his “Mike Maslanka @ your desk” video segment released February 22, he urged employers to encourage their employees to take time off. “Here is my proposal. Mandate that employees take vacation. Do not allow them to accrue the time and then cash it in,” he said, adding that it’s important for employees to get away and get refreshed.
“Why is it that vacation policies rattle on endlessly about how vacation time is computed but contain nothing about ensuring that it’s taken?” he asked. He went on to point out that employees are assets and employers need to “husband those assets and make sure they work as hard as they must but no more than they need.”
Another survey showing American workers giving up vacation time polled 2,534 adults in 10 large cities – Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.
The poll, released in July 2012 from vacation club company Inspirato, found that 57 percent of the employees polled in those cities who receive paid time off didn’t use all their time. Employees in Los Angeles and San Francisco were found to leave the most vacation behind – about a third of their time.
Even though employees often fail to take all their vacation, the Inspirato poll shows employees place a high value on time off. The survey found that half of all workers surveyed who received paid vacation time would be willing to give up a workplace benefit in exchange for more paid time off.
Some said they would give up a private office for more vacation time, others would skip their company’s 401(k) match, and others would rather have more time off than a raise, bonus, or promotion.
Eighty-five percent of those surveyed in the Inspirato poll said their employer provides a paid vacation benefit, with an average of just over 19 days per year. Employees in Chicago reported the highest number of vacation days, with 30 percent of respondents saying they received 21 days or more of paid time a year. Boston and San Francisco had the highest percentage of employees not getting paid time, with 19 percent in each city reporting they received no paid time off per year.
Leisure as productivity boost
Tony Schwartz, author and CEO of The Energy Project, wrote an opinion piece published in The New York Times on February 9 in which he advised employees to relax and work less in order to get more done.
“More and more of us find ourselves unable to juggle overwhelming demands and maintain a seemingly unsustainable pace,” Schwartz wrote. “Paradoxically, the best way to get more done may be to spend more time doing less. A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal – including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office, and longer, more frequent vacations – boosts productivity, job performance, and, of course, health.”
Schwartz cited a 2006 study the accounting firm Ernst & Young did on its employees. The study determined that for each additional 10 hours of vacation employees took, their annual performance ratings improved by eight percent. Those who frequently took vacation also were less likely to leave the firm.
Nevertheless, Schwartz points out that it’s the most hard-driving workers who usually garner the greatest respect from superiors. “In most workplaces, rewards still accrue to those who push the hardest and most continuously overtime,” he writes. “But that doesn’t mean they’re the most productive.”
Tammy Binford writes and edits news alerts and newsletter articles on labor and employment law topics for BLR Web and print publications. In addition, she writes for HR Hero Line and Diversity Insight, two of the ezines and blogs found on HRHero.com.