As an employer, you probably already realize the benefits of providing employees with paid time off (PTO). You may not know, though, that a majority of employees don't take their vacation days.
According to a 2017 survey of 400 employees commissioned by TSheets, 70 percent of U.S. workers "who received their PTO" don't use all of it each year. (TSheets is a time tracking and scheduling software company.)
"If you look at the total number of employees working in the United States (about 151 million)," the report goes on, "these numbers imply that employees left 600 million days of PTO unused."
It might seem like a way for business owners to save costs, but it may be better for your company to have your employees use their vacation days, believes Ximena Hartsock, co-founder and president of Phone2Action, a digital advocacy platform that connects citizens to lawmakers.
“Vacations days offer a chance to reflect and gain perspective," Hartsock says, "and PTO increases productivity in the office."
Burnout is a common result of a work-life imbalance. To avoid this potential productivity buster, it may be a good idea to encourage employees to use their vacation days. These three tips may help.
1. Set an example regarding taking time off.
It starts at the top, believes Rachel Hofstetter, chief marketing officer at Chatbooks, a service that turns digital photos into photo books.
“This is a perfect example of 'tone from the top,'" Hofstetter says. "When company leaders don't take vacation days themselves, they set a culture that dictates no one else can take time off."
A month after Chatbooks implemented a revised family leave policy, the company's CFO/COO took off the full time allotted for his paternity leave, Hofstetter says.
—Manny Medina, CEO, Outreach
“Setting the example at the executive level that vacation days are meant to be used is a critical component of making sure employees are happy, healthy and as productive as they can be," she says.
“If I and my leadership team don't take time off," Medina says, "we send a signal to the rest of the organization that high performance requires never taking vacations. We take regular mini vacations every quarter or so, and we make sure everyone in the company knows about it."
2. Make vacation days possible for your team.
Encouraging employees to take time off is one thing, but making it a viable option is another.
“It's important to cultivate a culture where every member of the team willingly steps up to fill in for employees while they're out, so no balls drop," says Medina. “Putting policies in place that protect employee vacations is also vital. That's why we created a maternity leave policy that allows new parents—moms and dads—to take time off after the arrival of a new baby without touching their vacation days."
Hartstock finds that informing employees of the best times of the year to take vacations acts as a motivator.
“We allow people to vacation at any time, but send memos out before summer and the winter holidays so people feel encouraged to use their PTO when the business is slower."
Phone2Action also allows employees with families overseas to take longer vacations and work remotely during the holidays. “All of this helps dedicated team members plan vacations without feeling guilty," says Hartstock.
Sometimes finances are the reason why employees fail to vacation, so Hartstock's company also gives travel loans. “We offer payment plans for young people who don't have the savings to afford a vacation overseas," she says.
3. Create a pro-vacation days company culture.
“While the TSheets survey cited that respondents were 'too busy' to take time off, I think the deeper reason is company culture and guilt," says Jon Wirt, head of marketing for Aura, which creates digital picture frames.
“If employees take vacation days while others don't, those taking time off might worry they'll be perceived as slackers," says Wirt. “Weave taking time off into the company's DNA. At Aura, family time is valued, so vacation days are considered a good reason to be out of the office. You can't force employees to take PTO, but when people bring up taking time off, stress the positives and take an active interest in their vacations."
Hofstetter agrees. “Show interest—[instead of] disdain—when people take vacation days," she says. "Emphasize the importance of going on vacation and go yourself. In our weekly marketing team meeting, one agenda item is to ask who is going on vacation the following week. Our policy is to put a palm tree as the person's status on Slack and ask that other employees respect their time away."
Chatbooks' culture of approval surrounding vacation days has effectively filtered to employees, notes Hofstetter.
“In a recent employee survey, we asked employees, 'What is one thing that makes you happy at work and satisfied with your work-life balance?' Many employees cited the company's positive attitude surrounding vacation days."
You can also make taking vacations part of your culture by celebrating them.
“Your celebration of employee vacations reinforces the message that taking time off is a good thing," says Medina.
Hofstetter agrees. “Once a month, employees share with one another a photo they've recently taken and tell a short story to explain it," she explains. "The photos usually portray something that occurred during time off. This tradition does a great job of celebrating and encouraging vacations."
Read more articles on work-life balance.