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How can employers encourage employees to truly take time away and disconnect?

This is the question many employers are asking more frequently these days. It goes without saying that the pandemic forced a shift in the way employees work. In a matter of weeks, huge numbers of employees moved to working from home, often with their entire family also home with them.1 And for those who did not, the stressors and risks of working through the pandemic contributed to behavioral shifts in employees. Arguably, one notable change is in the way employees disconnect and recharge, or rather have not in the last year.2,3

Even before the pandemic, many employees were not taking enough time off, leaving unused vacation/PTO days on the table. In a 2018 GfK and U.S. Travel survey of 4,349 U.S. employees who work 35+ hours per week, the fear of appearing replaceable was cited as the biggest barrier to using vacation time.4 And so, while encouraging employees to take time off to rest and unplug is not necessarily a new topic for employers, the need for compelling programs and strategies is much more pertinent today than in the past.

Among the 23 comparators in a custom Pacific Resources benchmarking survey, nine (9) do not have a structured strategy in place to directly encourage employees to take their accrued or allotted time away from work. Of comparators that do follow a structured strategy, multiple strategies are employed:

  • Planned and scheduled time off is respected and uninterrupted
  • There is a culture to support time off

On the other hand, there are several comparators that have a disincentive strategy in place to ensure that employees are taking the allotted or accrued time available to them:

  • Of those strategies, 12 comparators (52%) have a ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ policy provision in place
  • Three (3) comparators noted that any accrued and unused time off is not paid out at termination, unless otherwise required by state or local law (13%)

In the market, there are various progressive and creative efforts to foster and support a culture of taking time off that are garnering attention. In the following chart, we summarize each strategy and how it may be relevant to an organization.5

Strategy Why It Matters?

Leading by Example

When leaders intentionally and openly demonstrate the expectations regarding rest and taking time off, the message is clear to the rest of the company and encourages employees to follow suit.

Include in Performance Goals/Metrics

When included in goals, there is a greater likelihood that managers and employees will take time off.

It keeps the expectation top of mind, and compels managers and employees to have conversations about taking time off, and planning accordingly, during goal-related check-ins.

Implement Mandatory Time Off (“MTO”)

This approach sets a mandatory minimum expectation that is non-negotiable.

Department Week Off

This strategy ensures team members do not feel pressured to work while taking time off if the entire team or subset of team members are collectively unplugging.

Use-It-or-Lose-It

When employees understand that time off banks will not carry over, there is a greater incentive to take time off and use accrued time.

Actively Celebrate and Encourage Team Members Taking Time Off

When employees are celebrated for taking time off, others feel encouraged and inspired to do the same.

Provide and/or Leverage Vacation Planning Services

Providing company-sponsored assistance and discounts for planning and booking vacations demonstrates employers are not only supporting taking time off, but also alleviating some of the stress, time, and energy that comes with planning vacations and finding deals and packages.

 

Employers understandably have a vested interest in encouraging and supporting breaks from work. Taking time off from work positively impacts stress, improves overall health, and makes employees more productive and more likely to stay with their current employer.5 Internal research by EY in the U.S. and Canada found that for every 10 vacation hours a person took, average performance reviews were 8% higher. Furthermore, every 40 hours of free time extended an employee’s stay at the company by eight (8) months.6

Given the current course of the pandemic, the challenge of enabling and encouraging employees to take time away and to rest, relax and recharge will continue to be relevant for the foreseeable future.

 

  1. Workers are putting off vacation as pandemic increases stress. Marketplace. (2020, August 20). https://www.marketplace.org/2020/08/17/workers-putting-off-vacation-pandemic-increases-stress/.
  2. Davis, M. F., & Green, J. (2020, April 23). Three Hours Longer, the Pandemic Workday Has Obliterated Work-Life Balance. Bloomberg.com. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-04-23/working-from-home-in-covid-era-means-three-more-hours-on-the-job.
  3. S. Travel Association. (n.d.). Project: Time Off. https://www.ustravel.org/sites/default/files/media_root/document/2018_Research_State%20of%20American%20Vacation%202018.pdf.
  4. Seppälä, ―E., About the Author Follow Emma Seppala Emma Seppälä, & Follow Emma Seppala Emma Seppälä. (n.d.). Why you should take more time off from work. Greater Good. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_you_should_take_more_time_off_from_work.
  5. (2014, August 27). Want a raise? Try taking a vacation. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2014/08/27/vacations-help-you-get-ahead-at-work-ey.html.
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Post-covid conditions. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/long-term-effects.html.

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Pacific Resources Absence Team

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