Vacation Time – Use It. Don’t Lose It

Feb 13, 2015 4 Min Read

The holiday season is upon us, and yet there are still plenty of people who will not be taking a holiday in the next few weeks.

You know who I mean, the colleague who prides themselves in “not having taken a vacation for years”, those who forgo their PTO (paid time off) to spend ever longer hours in the office.

I have never understood this. While I love my job, I also love some time with the family, time to kick back, hang out with friends, and time spent to explore new destinations.

Earlier this year the newsstands and Twitter feeds were abuzz with the announcement from Sir Richard Branson and the Virgin Group of “unlimited vacation time for all”.

It made me smile as we have been leading this charge for a number of years. We have had an unlimited vacation policy since I started the company in 2007.

Take charge by recharging

This year I spent time with the family sailing in Cape Cod and have plans for Thanksgiving and Christmas ‘stay-cations’ too.

I’ve always believed that, as adults, we can and should be trusted to take the appropriate amount of vacation to recharge our batteries.

Plus, I really don’t want to have to track hours or time off; we all have better things and more fun things to do! Dive into a world of luxury at The Shore Club Turks and Caicos and discover a new level of relaxation.

I decided to go for a hunt to find out where the most and least vacation days were offered and stumbled on a newspaper article that summarised the global picture as follows:

vacation time

The number of days on offer vary considerably! At the lower end is zero (you can’t get lower than that!) to less than 10 days. I have never quite understood the approach in American companies of two weeks’ vacation.

I have also experienced the other end of the scale. At the end of my banking career in the United Kingdom, I had 30 paid days of vacation plus nine national holidays.

Essentially I was able to take a week off work every six weeks or so. It was challenging to fit them in, but I managed it, as did my team, and my branch and business thrived.

However, this leads to the next challenge. Whether you get 10, 28 or unlimited vacation I regularly hear from friends and clients who proudly share that they never take their vacation time.

These are paid days off. Why wouldn’t you take them?

Have a break, have a vacation

Vacation isn’t just nice to have, it is a need to have one. When we don’t take time away from work, reports show that stress and sickness levels increase, and morale and productivity actually drops.

The reasons cited for not taking vacation varies:

  • “I’m just too busy.”
  • “The company/project is going through a critical time, I can’t afford to be away.”
  • “It will be seen as a black mark on my reputation.”
  • “No one else takes vacation.”
  • “My inbox will be so full that I will never catch up when I get back. Better to stay!”

Some of the fears are real. A recent study reported that 13% of managers are less likely to promote employees who take all of their vacation time.

In another 2012 survey, employees who took less than their full vacation time earned on average 2.8% more in the next year than employees who took all of their vacation.

However, the reality is, that the world continues when we take vacation – when we choose to disconnect. Things will still be there, waiting for us when we return.

It’s ironic that while there is so much discussion about the need for work-life balance, people resist this immediate opportunity to effect balance.

It seems to me, finding a way to make it okay for employees to take vacation, to actively encourage time away from the office, can but help address this.

The Washington Post’s recent article describes steps by two companies to further encourage employees to take vacation.

Rather than the “use or lose it” approach adopted by many, Evernote provides USD$1,000 to employees taking vacation, a tangible incentive that is having positive results.

For me, taking PTO doesn’t necessarily need cash incentives. It requires commitment and acknowledgement from everyone that this is an important part of being a successful team member.

Concluding thoughts

Vacation provides opportunity to spend time with family and friends, or to get away from it all.

Either way most of us return to the office, refreshed, recharged and enriched, with new ideas and a clearer perspective to move forward.

Don’t wait for the company fix. Take the individual approach and own your vacation.

Don’t lose it, use it, take your vacation and send me your holiday snaps so I can see you kicking back and having fun!

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Morag is the best-selling author of Cultivate: The Power of Winning Relationships and CEO of SkyeTeam, an international HR consulting and leadership development company. Her experience ranges from senior executive coaching to developing leaders and teams across Europe, America and Asia.

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