While most of us work out of financial necessity, our careers also bring us a sense of purpose and self-worth. No matter how much you love your job, though, work is often stressful: growing to-do lists, challenging deadlines, and, of course, people always needing something from you. The pandemic only upped the pressure. Research shows that employees working from home put in more hours than they did previously. Add the stress of spending so much time stuck in our homes, and it’s no surprise that people are looking to get away from it all. We all need a break from time to time, so why even now are so many Americans not using their earned vacation time?
To Vacay or Not to Vacay
According to historians, vacations have been around since at least the Roman Empire. In fact, there’s evidence that suggests most early empires participated in travel for leisure. History shows us it’s in our nature to enjoy the world we live in, not just exist within it. Yet people today are prioritizing work, even when they are desperately in need of time off.
In her 2019 article, Meghan McCarty Carino notes that fewer than half of Americans are taking their vacation days. Employees cite guilt, time constraints, and the feeling that leaving is more effort than it’s worth. We see here a pattern of people feeling too over-worked to take a break. This trend is alarming for many reasons; but from a leadership perspective, it should set off alarm bells.
As I’ve discussed in a previous article, burnout is real. It can cost companies their best employees. It’s genuinely amazing to have people that take such pride in their work that they don’t want to step away — even for a short time. But frankly, it’s not healthy.
Leaders can help promote a healthier work-life balance for their employees, thus improving morale and reducing turnover. A major part of this effort involves making sure employees feel supported enough to leave their work at work and enjoy their vacations. After all, the thought of playing catch-up shouldn’t make you regret leaving in the first place!
Some ways to get started include:
- Normalize paid time off (PTO). It’s not a treat; it’s the standard.
- Know (and balance) the workloads of your employees. No one should be genuinely irreplaceable.
- Encourage cross-training so teams can cover essential tasks while one person is away.
- Be flexible in accommodating dates for leaving AND returning.
- Maintain transparency. Let teams know about vacation plans so they can prepare accordingly.
- Lead by example.
- If all else fails, make a vacation schedule.
The Benefits of Taking Time Off
The necessity of vacations is proven by science. Leaving for a short time can re-invigorate an employee and allow them to come back with a new perspective on their work. This enables creative solutions to existing problems or simply more energy to tackle them. That boosts productivity.
Still, understanding why time off matters doesn’t automatically incline individuals to take it. It’s our job as leaders to empower and encourage our employees to take advantage of the benefits they’ve earned. After all, we all need a vacation.