On Vacation and Parental Leave, the Boss’s Attitude Matters

On Vacation and Parental Leave, the Boss’s Attitude Matters

Employers in the US have been trying a variety of tactics to get their overworked, always-connected employees to take time off, from unlimited leave to mandatory vacations. Huffington Post business editor Emily Peck, however, finds that what really makes an employee feel comfortable taking a vacation is a matter of culture—that is, whether their organization and their boss truly encourage it:

In the U.S., paid vacation is a privilege — mostly conferred on higher-income workers. About 20 percent of Americans do not get paid time off. If you drill down to lower-paying industries, the number is even worse. Fifty-five percent of those in the service sector don’t get paid vacations. So in the U.S., when it comes to vacation we are completely beholden to the whims of our employers. And whether or not they claim that we are adults capable of making our own decisions or give us a set number of days to take off, companies still need to establish norms around vacation time — otherwise we’re just not going to take that much time off. …

When I asked people on Twitter, “Does your boss encourage and support you taking vacation?” Only 39 percent of respondents said yes. Thirty-two percent said their boss does not support them. The remaining respondents said they feel guilty for taking time off.

Most Americans, even the ones with a set amount of vacation time, don’t take all the days offered to them, Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute, told HuffPost. And even if they do, they don’t take very long periods of time off. About 40 percent of workers feel their job is in jeopardy if they take advantage of flexibility, according to a 2016 survey her organization conducted, she said.

The attitude and example set by leadership is also an important tool for changing attitudes about parental leave, particularly for dads. When Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg took two months away from work after the birth of his daughter earlier this year, commentators including Peck herself praised Zuckerberg for sending a positive message about family leave to his employees and other leaders in his field. Gusto co-founder Tomer London plans to do the same when his own daughter is born, and wants everyone to know why:

We live in the only developed country where parents aren’t guaranteed to stay on payroll when they have a child. Fathers are commonly left out of the picture altogether. Only 12 percent of private companies give new dads paid leave, and 70 percent of fathers who took it were gone for fewer than ten days.

I believe this is wrong and unfair. New parents — both mothers and fathers — should have the flexibility to take time to enjoy and adjust to their growing families. They should feel confident and completely fearless. … One of the biggest reasons I’m going on paternity leave is to signal to my team that this is normal, expected behavior. It shouldn’t make you feel guilty, or as if you’re not as committed to your work. Once people see that I’m out for two months, I hope they feel comfortable doing the same if they choose to. This is also how I act when I go on vacation. Inside every email, meeting, and Slack message, I not-so-subtly announce my plans because I want people to cozy up to the idea that time off is healthy.