Here’s a hard pill to swallow for businesses: Your employees are spending too much time in the office and online. It’s not good for them. It’s not good for their families. And it’s not good for your organization.
The prevailing culture across Corporate America is now one of undefined hours, constant contact, and limitless workloads, with work and life bleeding into each other in unprecedented ways. While the rise of mobile technology provides flexibility, it can have the opposite effect if your employees don’t feel empowered to disconnect.
Entry-level associates are sleeping next to smartphones, senior managers are logging 80-plus-hour weeks, and nobody is taking their vacation time. U.S. employees surrendered 169 million days of paid time off (PTO), totaling $52.4 billion in lost benefits in 2013 alone, according to research from the U.S. Travel Association.
A separate survey, from Glassdoor, found only 25% of employees with paid time off took all of their vacation time in 2013, and of those who do take time off, more than 60% admitted to working while on vacation. USTA calls it work martyrdom. The cute kids in those MasterCard commercials call it just plain dumb.
Martyrdom is simply bad for business. Employees who take the least time off are among the most stressed. And employers lose around $300 billion annually due to employee stress, according to the World Health Organization.
Encourage your workforce to break from the grind. This can have short- and long-term benefits, like improving focus, productivity, and engagement, reducing stress, and preventing employee burnout.
Here are a few ways you can convince employees to take their PTO:
Telling employees to take their vacation time will come across as empty words if your organization’s senior leaders aren’t taking time off themselves. Company culture is established from the top down, and the management team needs to model the work-life fit they want for their employees. If leadership doesn’t value time away from the office enough to take it themselves, why would an employee feel empowered to take advantage of their own PTO?
A common reason employees won’t take time away from work is the fear of being buried by a pile of even more work upon their return. Preempt that concern by developing a coverage plan. Have employees list out their daily tasks and deliverables, and encourage their fill-in to assume some of those responsibilities beforehand to establish a routine both are comfortable with. Knowing the team’s taking care of business is crucial for employees to completely separate from work during their time away.
Whether you have an accrual system, uniform PTO, a use-it-or-lose-it approach, or unlimited vacation, make sure your policy is in line with your company culture. The better the two are aligned, the more comfortable your employees will feel about taking their time.
Though it’s not always viewed this way, vacation time is ultimately a part of an employee’s compensation and total rewards package. By not taking vacation, they’re essentially donating their time to their employers. Remind your employees they’ve earned their PTO and you’ll likely see more of them taking advantage of it.
Finding work-life balance is an uphill battle, and in many respects that ideal has taken a backseat to work-life integration, wherein personal and professional responsibilities coexist in a fluid relationship. Still, as a leader, it’s on you to make sure your talent is taking time to truly unplug—for the health and betterment of themselves, their families, and your organization.
And this means not emailing them while they’re on vacation too.
—Donna Levin is vice president of public policy, corporate social responsibility, and workplace solutions at Care.com. She is dedicated to helping employers build customized benefits packages to support employees’ care needs, as well as discover innovative solutions to the growing global care issue, helping shape local, federal, and state matters as they pertain to families.