How often have you looked at your email inbox, sighed, and told yourself that you need a vacation? Sure, you love your job. You love the business you’ve created. That doesn’t mean you don’t need a break sometimes.
Even if you don’t need a break, your employees do.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 61 percent of workers in private industry have paid sick leave, 77 percent have paid vacation, and 76 percent have paid holidays. They don’t track the number of days of each that people have. The BLS reported that larger companies tend to offer more time off than smaller firms; of firms with fewer than 50 employees, 50 percent offer sick leave, 66 percent offer paid vacation, and 67 percent have paid holidays.
On top of that, not all people take the time they have. Project: Time Off, a research group sponsored by the U.S. Travel Association, found that 42 percent of employees finish the year with unused vacation time, and that the number of days that they leave on the table is increasing. One of the culprits is management, they found. Although 93 percent of managers say that time off is important, 59 percent have unused vacation time. Furthermore, 68 percent of non-managers say that they hear negative or mixed messages about vacations and are sometimes told straight up, “no”.
This creates an interesting situation for companies. If employees are not taking vacation time, an organization may be able to increase employee satisfaction without increasing benefits simply by encouraging people to take their time (and discouraging managers from making cracks about people who take time off or calling sick employees at home to make sure they are “really” sick.) Managers concerned about departmental workload can try steering employees to take time off in slower seasons as a way to get them to use their benefits with minimal disruption.
Vacation time leaves employees refreshed, and it is also an important component of internal controls – which is why the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation expects banks to give employees an uninterrupted two-week vacation.
Some employers have set a policy of “unlimited” time. Employees can take as much time as they want off as long as the work gets done. Because there is no specific grant of time, there is no time to accumulate, and thus, no payout when an employee leaves. The success of this depends greatly on the amount of trust between workers and managers. If your office already has a problem with people not taking vacation, an unlimited policy may create more problems.
Many offices have combined vacation time with sick leave into a paid time off program. There are state and local laws that may complicate this; many communities are adding mandatory sick leave programs to protect public health, but that may interfere with your attempts to change policies. Five states and several municipalities have passed laws mandating sick leave, and more laws like this are in the works.
Ultimately, vacation time is part of a package of employee benefits, and the decision of how much time to give is in part a function of the market for employees. The tighter the market, the richer the benefits you need to offer. If your employees aren’t taking the time they have now, though, encouraging them to do so is a way to increase job satisfaction without increasing benefits packages.