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Dedication to work is a good quality for employees, but taking time off for leisure is critical for their health and company success.  This is why employers should take their vacation policy and its utilization into consideration when thinking about employee well-being and productivity.

A survey by Allianz Global Assistance found that 36% of Americans took their last vacation more than two years ago and 51% haven't taken leave in more than a year. Only 42% surveyed also thought they would take a vacation this year, which is close to the lowest point measured since 2013.

According to U.S. Travel, in 2017, American employees forfeited 212 million vacation days, which results in $62.2 billion in lost benefits.


Reasons Employees Don't Take Vacation

The survey defines vacation as "a leisure trip of at least a week to a destination that is 100 miles or more from home." Respondents said that a variety of issues prevented them from taking time off.

  • 44% do not have the money to spend on a vacation
  • 19% don't want to spend money on a vacation
  • 14% cannot take time off work
  • 12% do not want to take time off

It’s not always employee restrictions that prevent vacationing, as not all employers offer paid time off. The Center for Economic and Policy Research says that nearly one in four (23%) Americans do not have paid vacation and 22% do not have paid holidays—less than most advanced economies in the world. Only 40% of part-time workers get paid vacation or paid holidays, and the percentage decreases even more for hourly workers.


Vacation: Good For Employees And Employers

Vacations provide a necessary break from work, one that employees need for their physical and mental health. Numerous studies show that vacation provides recovery time from workday stress, enabling an employee to live longer and healthier, improve reaction time, sleep better, gain a fresh perspective about work challenges, reduce anxiety and depression, and feel more productive. One study even found that employees who use the most vacation days have better performance reviews and higher retention rates.


Those Who Can Vacation But Don't

Despite the evidence that vacations are good for employees, why do those who have the benefit and the budget still decline to take time off? In the do more, faster, with fewer resources work environment, one study noted that 27% of employees say they have too much work to take time off and 10% worry about the work they'll face when they return from vacation.

Despite the study defining a vacation at least a weeklong and far away from home, the health benefits of taking time off do not need to be limited to such restrictions.  As employees learn in Wellable’s Vacation Exploration Challenge, any amount of time off, including staycations (time off spent at home), can help recharge the body and improve performance and productivity in the long-term. If employees view the threshold of taking a vacation as defined in the survey, they may opt out of taking shorter vacations (in length and distance traveled) because they feel there are no benefits.


Vacations As A Component of Wellness

If your company offers a wellness program, and even if it doesn't, it is critical to recognize the role that taking vacations play in your employees' well-being. Recognize that it can take some work to nudge a company’s culture so that taking vacations is encouraged.

Some key ways to do this are:

  • Be a role model – Leadership should take vacation time themselves. If managers are encouraged to share enjoyable details about a vacation with their team and do not send work emails from the beach, employees will feel that it is acceptable to take time off to disconnect.
  • Set the expectation – Ask employees when they are going on vacation. Talk with them about how to offboard and onboard, so they don't face more stress upon return.
  • Provide resources – From policies to education, employees will benefit by knowing the personal benefits of taking time off. If employees learn that it will be better for their professional and personal lives, they will feel empowered to take a vacation.

Although a vacation needs to be long enough to unplug, it doesn't have to be two weeks long. Tagging a day before and after a long holiday weekend can be restorative, as can staycations (that don't involve house projects or chores). By building in periodic downtime, employees can stay healthier, happier, and more productive all year long.

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