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Core Thoughts: The Vacation Dilemma

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Core Thoughts

Core Thoughts is a  series  on my blog where I throw a question into the ring for discussion and allow my amazing colleagues and connections to answer. In this month’s Core Thoughts series I posed the following questions to many of my contacts in Human Resources:

Why do you think vacation time is not fully utilized and how can leaders ensure that their employees take time off to get recharged – even the stubborn, workaholic types?


 

From what I see and hear, one reason that people don’t use vacation leave is they are “banking” for a payout if and when they leave the company…

From what I see and hear, one reason that people don’t use vacation leave is they are “banking” for a payout if and when they leave the company. Employers can put “use it or lose it ” policies in place, which will motivate some to take more vacation. Also, with PTO becoming more popular (which combines vacation and sick leave), people often want to have extra time in case they encounter an unexpected illness.

We are also seeing organizations offer unlimited leave, which has its own set of issues. When vacation is not defined it gets very fuzzy on what is appropriate and it is hard to have consistency throughout the organization. Some managers will encourage significant leave be taken and others will see too much leave as trying to take advantage of the policy. Employers that offer unlimited leave often have a motive of not having an obligation to pay for earned leave upon termination.

– Mark Stevenson, President & CEO of Smart HR

The likely suspects are the fear of how it might be perceived or perhaps a misguided view that it makes them seem like a superhero because they are always working…

The likely suspects are the fear of how it might be perceived or perhaps a misguided view that it makes them seem like a superhero because they are always working. I also think there are more innocent reasons – people want to hold some for later in the year and then plans fall through. Or I also believe that there are occasional, short-term business issues that simply preclude people taking time off.  But in these innocent situations, the right thing to do is to allow folks to take the time off at a later date, not punish them.  That is why I am not a fan of the all or nothing, “use it or lose it ” approach.

Two thoughts strike me for how leaders can ensure that their employees take time off. First, we have a responsibility  to create the right culture in our organizations about time off – that to take it is not a bad thing.  And maybe that starts with our behavior by taking our own time off.  But on the other hand, I also believe in treating people like adults and trusting them to make their own decisions.  If someone wants to forgo a day or two of vacation during the year in order to ensure a project gets done or to go “above and beyond, ” then I would argue this is their choice.  I would feel a bit stronger if someone was never taking vacation – then you need to get them to take a break for their own health and wellbeing.  But shorting themselves a day or two seems more innocent to me.

– Brian Wheeler, Vice President, Human Resources at Sabert Corporation

Be authentic. Take a true interest in their lives, and help them understand how important life is beyond the P&L…

I think not taking vacation time has been a U.S. cultural characteristic for a number of reasons:

  1. I think because our economy/government is truly capitalism, there’s a tendency to focus on performance, output/productivity, etc. Short-term thinking doesn’t emphasize the relationship between life-balance, health, and higher engagement/productivity.
  2. Older generations experienced seasons that really impacted work ethic like the depression, recessions, etc. This respect for work, and especially hard work, is passed down through generations.
  3. We have seen the effects of long-term companies having to restructure and re-invent themselves over and over again. This means you can’t sit back and trust you will have employment for life, so there’s some more pressure to stay visible and valued. I could go on but these are the first, more profound things I can think of. Having lead HR for global companies, I have seen quite different paradigms on vacation, especially in Western Europe.

As far as what we can do:

  1. Be a role model. If you take yours, they will feel more safe taking theirs.
  2. Be authentic. Take a true interest in their lives, and help them understand how important life is beyond the P&L.  Tell them you know they will be even more valuable to the organization when they are fully charged, rested, and balanced.
  3. Don’t let huge banks build. You are just encouraging workaholics, snowplowing the issue to a later date, and possibly building another retirement/exit plan that encourages them to cash out and leave.

– Drew Morton, Senior Vice President & Chief Human Resources Officer at Hanger

First of all, as a leader it is important to stress the importance of using vacation. I let people know that I use all of my vacation in a given year and expect them to as well…

First of all, as a leader it is important to stress the importance of using vacation. I let people know that I use all of my vacation in a given year and expect them to as well. I don’t care to hear stories about “vacation heroe –  – people who are so busy and so important that they can’t use all of their vacation.  At one company I worked for it was a badge of honor to brag about how much vacation you did not use in a given year.  While I appreciate the sense of duty that many people have for the company and co-workers, the company provides the time to employees for a reason. It is an opportunity to refresh, recharge, and reflect.  Here is my perspective broken into broad categories:

Financial:  Broadly speaking, many people have not seen an increase in true wages in years.  Many simply cannot afford to travel or spend money beyond the basic costs of raising a family.  Economic realities prevail.  Often times it is a choice of taking a week off for vacation (spending discretionary money) or working another week (earning additional wages).  Viewed from the perspective of an hourly waged employee, taking a week off will cost the family 2X a week’s wage.

Lifestyle: For many it may be more intrinsically rewarding and satisfying to spend time working versus sitting on a beach thinking about work.  Clearly the globalized, digitized world in which we live both burdens and enables employees to always be plugged-in. I believe the oft-used phrase of “work-life balance ” is framed incorrectly.  I encourage employees to achieve “work-life integration. ”  Find what works for you and recognize it will change over time as your life changes.  It’s ok to work on vacation if that allows you a greater sense of ease.

Competitiveness: Everyone has aspirations in life and a career that they want to achieve. Out of both caution and ambition, people may not want to take time off for fear of falling behind (i.e. law and accounting firms) or facing the mountain of work that waits for them when they return.

Culture: The culture and unwritten rules of an organization may discourage people from taking time off. It’s important for managers to lead by example.

– Tom Kane, EVP & Chief Human Resources Officer at Constellation Brands

Employees tend to embrace what I call “shadow of the leader. ”  Our actions speak louder than our words…

Unlike the work environment 20 years ago, today’s work and personal lives are entwined via technology. Most employees receive work and personal emails on the same personal mobile phone and there becomes an auto-mingling of work and personal life.  This auto-mingling makes it difficult to build a “vacation wall ” around the time spent at the beach or with the family. Technology convenience also tempts us to just take a “sneak peek ” at our emails, making it difficult to “shut off ” completely. Also, some employees do not want to “burn ” a whole vacation day if they are going to work part of the day anyway. Vacation is valuable if a company pays it out at separation.

The best way to encourage employees to take vacation is to model the behavior. As a leader, I am extra cautious to ensure I am not sending dozens of emails to my staff while on my vacation.  This sends the wrong message that I do not value vacation. This also may unintentionally signal that I expect my employees to work on vacation. Employees tend to embrace what I call “shadow of the leader. ”  Our actions speak louder than our words.

– Anna-Maria G. Palmer, Sr. Vice President, Human Resources at Compass Pointe Healthcare System

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