Most US Employees Don’t Feel Encouraged to Take Vacations

Most US Employees Don’t Feel Encouraged to Take Vacations

It’s not news that Americans take too few vacation days, at a cost to their health, happiness, and productivity. We’ve also heard that it falls to managers to set an example for their employees and make clear to them that it’s really OK to take the time off to which they are entitled. At the Wall Street Journal, John Simons passes along a new survey from Project: Time Off that puts some numbers behind that assertion, finding that more than two thirds of employees “hear either negative chatter, mixed messages or nothing at all from their bosses about using their vacation days”:

“While managers are incredibly supportive of taking vacation, they are out of touch with employee attitudes concerning time off and how loudly their actions communicate a much different message to workers,” writes author Katie Denis in “The High Price of Silence,” a study that surveyed 5,641 full-time workers in the U.S., including 1,184 respondents who have managerial responsibilities and 312 executive and senior leaders. All told, the report says 658 million vacation days went unused in 2015. …

Senior leaders—those with titles comparable to vice presidents, senior vice presidents, directors and managing directors—are modeling the worst behavior, according to the survey. A majority of those managers (52%) said they think no one is capable of doing their work when they aren’t around, and 55% believe taking a vacation will only result in “a mountain of work” upon their return.

While role modeling and positive messaging seem to be the most important things bosses can do to encourage their employees to take vacations, there are other techniques they can try. One innovative tactic some organizations are trying out is “paid, paid vacation“—i.e., not only paying employees for the time they take off, but also paying for their travel and lodging.

With so many Americans leaving paid vacation days on the table, another possibility is to give employees a way to use the value of their accrued time off, either to pay for a vacation or to contribute to other rewards. Anders Melin and Ben Steverman at Bloomberg profile PTO Exchange, a new startup that “lets workers trade unused, paid time off for travel or contributions to 401(k) plans and health savings accounts”:

Employees accumulating huge amounts of paid leave can create problems for both themselves and their employers. Untapped vacation can become a large financial obligation that businesses must carry on their balance sheets. If workers have banked hundreds of hours of leave time, they often have just two options to unlock its value immediately: Go on months-long vacations—something likely to displease their bosses if it’s even allowed—or quit.

[Co-founder Rob] Whalen said a problem with vacations is the one-size-fits-all model: PTO Exchange lets employees view online the dollar value of their untapped vacation time. That can be used to book flights and lodging through a partnership with Priceline Group Inc., deposited into a 401(k) or HSA, or donated to charitable organizations. Employees can also give their paid leave to colleagues suffering from medical issues. “The benefits someone wants in their twenties might be different than those someone wants if they’re 30 or 40,” Whalen said.

His company is currently working to implement the system at its first client—a health insurer with more than 2,000 employees—and is in talks with a large retailer and several big human resource firms.

PTO Exchange was one of several innovative benefits communication vendors recently featured in the CEB’s Benefits Communication Vendors Library tool that accompanied our recent research on benefits communication. CEB Total Rewards Leadership Council members can read the recent research on making benefits communication relevant here and access the vendors library tool here.