How to Really Get Employees to Take More Vacation

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Does the idea of scheduling some days off during the holiday season seems like more trouble than it’s worth? You’re not alone. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that even at companies that offer unlimited time off, employees often hesitate to take more vacation.

more vacation

Research shows that time off enhances our productivity. So why is it so hard to get employees to take more vacation?

So what’s going on here? I believe that unlimited vacation policies don’t address the underlying issues that keep employees from taking time off.

The anecdotes cited in this article demonstrate some of the problems I’ve written about before in how U.S. workplaces handle vacation time. For example, employees feel they can’t escape email even when they’re away from the office. Or they worry about how managers and colleagues will perceive them if they do schedule more vacation time.

As I said in the WSJ article:

“If you’re the only one taking every single day you have, compared to everyone else, it looks like you’re not dedicated or slacking off,” says Maura Thomas, a workplace productivity trainer. She says giving employees more time off doesn’t help. Employees won’t take vacation if the company’s leadership doesn’t take time off or if their manager’s response to vacation requests are less than favorable, she says.

This reluctance to take time off — or to fully disconnect even while on vacation — is a problem because research consistently shows that employees who take more vacation are also more effective.

A Vacation-Friendly Culture

None of this means that offering unlimited vacation is a bad idea. But such a policy — and, indeed, any vacation policy — will be more effective when leaders take supportive actions like these:

  • Encourage employees to take vacation time. If leaders say nothing about vacation, employees will interpret that as discouragement.
  • Take all of their own vacation days. This sets a powerful example.
  • Refrain from emailing or otherwise contacting employees who are on vacation. Even if leaders say they don’t expect a reply until employees are back at work, this communication still keeps them tethered to the office.
  • Support tech solutions (like Daimler‘s) that help employees truly disconnect during their time off.
  • Ensure that all staffers have a trusted backup to perform their duties while they’re away.

Your organization will benefit when employees take more vacation time. An unlimited vacation policy can help support this, but it’s not a cure-all — and it’s not the only way to build a more vacation friendly-culture.

I go into much more depth on the productivity benefits of vacation time, and how leaders can promote it, in my book Work Without Walls. You can read the first chapter for free on my website.

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