(Reprinted with the permission of the Costco Connection)
Are you a work martyr? Employees who feel stressed out, overworked and all-around slaves to their jobs are among a growing trend of Americans who believe that their jobs can’t do without them—and they can’t do without their jobs—even for a few days.
Chances are that when you were hired on, your employer offered paid vacation day as part of your package. But if you’re like many Americans—a reported 54 percent in 2016—you leave unused vacation days on the table. For the past 15 years, employees’ use of paid time off in the United States has taken a nosedive. According to a survey from market research institute GfK (Growth from Knowledge), 662 million vacation days went unused by American workers in 2016.
The survey shows that in 2016, employees reported they used 16.8 vacation days in 2016, up almost a full day from the 16.0 days reported in 2014. That’s good news for both employees and employers, according to Costco member Katie Denis, chief research and strategy officer for Project:Time Off, an organization dedicated to transforming American attitudes and behavior about the importance of taking paid vacation days.
“While we’re getting better, we’re still far cry from where we were 15 or 20 years ago when the long-term average was more than 20 vacation days,” Denis says. “It’s important for employees and employers to understand that taking time off makes people better employees.”
She adds that when employees take time for vacation, they return refreshed, with a new perspective and new ideas or solutions to problems they’ve been dealing with. Backing up that data, recent research conducted by the Society of Human Resource Management states, “fully utilizing vacation leave drives higher employee performance and productivity, boosts organizational morale, contributes to employee wellness and results in higher employee retention."
Communication between managers and employees is key. Denis says that managers can lead by example—meaning they should use all earned vacation days and encourage their employees to do the same. Sending that message fosters a culture where employees feel supported, valued and motivated.
According to Project:Time Off, using vacation days improves Americans’ personal lives through strengthening family ties and offering health benefits, and it’s a wise business decision that improves productivity and morale in the workplace. Additionally, taking a vacation helps the country by giving the U.S. economy a $160 billion boost. Vacation actually helps create jobs and income for American workers. The Project: Time Off website states that “millions of unused days cost the U.S. economy $236 billion in 2016. Had those days been used, they had the potential to create 1.8 million jobs and generate $70 billion in additional income for American workers.”
Here are some tips to make sure you make the most of your vacation benefits.
Scheduling vacation is the first hurdle. Denis says that the most important thing for individuals to do is to plan ahead—as far out as possible. “Planning ahead it makes it easier for the boss to approve time off, and for employees, it’s easier to manage work tasks before a vacation so they don’t return to a mountain of work.”
Let’s face it, some folks just aren’t the vacation type. If that sounds like you, start slow by adding a couple of days to your weekend—a Monday, Friday (or both). If you hate travel, plan a staycation somewhere nearby. You might be surprised by how new sights, sounds and experiences will help you gain a new perspective that can improve your work efforts.
You might think you’re indispensible, but really, no one is. Once you’ve decided to take time off, find someone to fill in. Many companies and organizations cross-train employees, so they can step in during vacation times. Put an “out of office” message on your email with the contact information for your backup.
It’s almost impossible for some employees to resist the urge to check their work email when they’re on vacation, but getting away from work, means just that. The ability to work from anywhere doesn’t mean you should work from everywhere, including vacation. When you’re on email, you’re not enjoying quality time with family and friends. Leave the cellphone behind and go watch a beautiful sunset, kayak a lazy river, climb a mountain trail, or just be present in the moment.
The bottom line is that Americans are using more vacation than the past two years. As employers and employees work together to prioritize communication and planning regarding vacation, positive change will continue.