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Why leaders should encourage their team to take vacation

If you think business progress is negatively impacted when people take time off, think again. Data shows that more time off does not translate into lower productivity. In fact, nine of the top 10 most productive countries, measured by GDP per hour worked, are located in countries where employees have – and use – generous amounts of vacation time.

It can feel like there’s never enough time to take time off. Not only does it feel like productivity is “lost” while an employee is gone, but their work has to be offloaded to someone else for the short term.

take a vacation!

But the reality is that by sacrificing vacation days you risk longer-term mental health and happiness in employees. The end result is an increased likelihood of both burnout and turnover. And that’s a much more significant drain on small business resources than encouraging a top performer to take a couple weeks’ vacation each year to recharge.

So how can you fix this, to ensure that you’re minimizing the risk of both burnout and turnover, and maximizing an appropriate use of vacation time per employee?

Communicate time-off policies and the reasons behind them

Communicate the reasoning behind time-off and vacation policies with employees, no matter how many or few you have.

Most employees report that they hear nothing, or mixed messages, about time off policies. And 1 in 11 small business employees report that they are “very likely” to leave their company in the next 12 months specifically due to unfavourable vacation policies. When your employees understand that (i) you have their best interest in mind and (ii) employee time off benefits the company financially, they’ll be more likely to do it.

Remember, they want employer / employee alignment just as much as you do.

Remind employees about vacation policies throughout the year

One of the biggest nuisances about vacation and time-off policies is that employees forget to take time off. Suddenly, half your office is out for the month of December. Combat this by setting reminders to encourage employees to plan time off in advance. Remind employees that in innovative, ambitious, creative work environments, new experiences help them bring more to the table. This will lead to more productivity and help everyone be better off mentally.

There will never be a “good” time for someone to disappear for 1-3 weeks. Planning in advance allows others to plan around the absence and reduces stress associated with pulling together a last-minute vacation.

  • Send out quarterly emails asking if your team has planned and coordinated time off for the coming months.
  • Communicate the company calendar so people know known “busy periods” versus known down-times, to the best of your ability.
  • Get people dreaming about their bucket list and vacations they want to take. During the next stand-up chat or town hall, ask each person where they’d like to travel to next. It’ll spark some fun discussions among team members!

Lead by example with your own vacation

Yes, you! Founders are some of the most burnout-prone people in the business universe. Running a business is a marathon, not a sprint.

Show your employees that taking time off is an expectation. Glorifying the never-ending hustle is over, and burnout is real. Burnout is characterized by emotional exhaustion, cynicism and ineffectiveness in the workplace, and by chronic negative responses to stressful workplace conditions.

Job burnout accounts for an estimated $125 billion to $190 billion in U.S. health care spending each year. It’s also been attributed to type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, gastrointestinal issues, high cholesterol and even death for those under the age of 45.

Starting a company might be sexy, but burning out (and looking like sh*t because your health is deteriorating) is not. Leading by example means…

  • Planning your trip in advance. Always try to be transparent with your team about the next time you’ll be taking a vacation.
  • Prepare others for your absence. Communicate to others (both internally and externally) that you will be offline. Delegate appropriately before you go away.
  • Turn your out-of-office responses on, including the best person to reach for various issues in your absence.
  • Properly disconnect. Every time you respond to an email on vacation, you’re also sending a message to your team that leaving the office doesn’t actually mean getting vacation (which negates the benefits of time off).

Put your money where your mouth is

It turns out it’s actually profitable to pay employees to take vacation. The U.S. Travel Association found that financial incentives to promote vacation day utilization work – and don’t cost the company in the end. In 2013, the Association discovered that only 19% of their employees were taking all their vacation time. The number soared to 91% the following year, when they offered a $500 bonus to staffers who used their days.

The organization’s CEO, Roger Dow, also made a number of statements about how critical it was to take time off. Employees also received updates about how many vacation days they had left. These efforts resulted in the company reducing its financial liability from unused time off by $36,345.

Clearly communicating vacation policies is one thing, but putting a financial incentive in place shows the employee that you mean it. Show your employees that you know how important it is for them to use their time off effectively, and that it would be great if they could take part in a new experience or travel with their earned time off.

Encourage time off to get the most of time on

In this tight labour market, companies are trying to figure out how to attract and retain the happiest, healthiest, most productive talent. Re-framing a standard legal benefit into a tool for recharging and productivity – not to mention it’s something employees highly value – can have more of a positive cultural impact than you might anticipate.

The logic is simple: employees want it and it’s better for business. Turns out, one of the best things for productivity is to encourage employees to leave the office for a bit.

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Erica Pearson is the founder and CEO of Vacation Fund

Photo courtesty Dejan Zakic on Unsplash

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