Take time for time off

Mary Cornforth
Mary Cornforth

How many vacation days have you used this year? If you’re like most Americans, chances are you haven’t used enough.

In 2017, 52 percent of American employees reported unused vacation days at the end of the year. The U.S. Travel Association Project: Time Off began conducting an annual survey, the State of the American Vacation, to track vacation habits after discovering Americans use significantly less vacation time than they did 40 years ago.

Why does this matter? While we certainly can be commended for our work ethic, it’s better for businesses and employees to create a workplace culture that also recognizes the value of time away from work.  Studies show when employees feel supported in taking vacation days, they’re happier with their jobs and companies. Vacations also boost productivity. Employees return from vacations refreshed and ready to work.

Vacations are also a vital part of health care. Research from the last 30 years has shown vacations benefit mental health and physical well-being. A study tracking workers over 20 years found men who didn’t take vacations were 30 percent more likely to suffer a heart attack and women were 50 percent more likely.

Employees who don’t take vacations are more anxious, stressed and sicker than their counterparts who use their vacation time. That affects the bottom line. Circadian, a workforce solutions company, estimates absenteeism costs employers $3,600 per hourly employee and $2,650 per salaried employee a year.

Productivity and health benefits aside, consider this perspective. Vacations benefit the economy. When we go on vacation, we support travel and tourism industries that constitute economic drivers in many communities, Mesa County included. According to Project: Time Off survey results, Americans accumulated 705 million unused days in 2017.  Had we used those days to vacation, our activities could have generated $255 billion and supported 1.9 million jobs.

The good news is Colorado leads the nation in taking time off. On average, Coloradans used 20.3 vacation days in 2017. The bad news is 68 percent of Coloradans still have unused vacation days.

How can we do better? For employees to use vacation days, they must feel empowered to take them. According to Project: Time Off survey results, 62 percent of employees said their companies discourage, send mixed messages or say nothing about vacation time. There’s a disconnect here because 70 percent of leaders reported feeling strongly their companies want them to use paid time off.

A valuable takeaway is we can’t assume employees are comfortable using all the vacation days they’ve earned. To create a workplace culture that supports employees taking paid time off, we must communicate our support. It’s also important to address concerns about workload or projects preventing staff from taking time off.  Periodic check-ins or scheduled one-on-ones provide an opportunity to talk with staff about workloads and plans for time off.

With less than two months left in 2018 and the holidays just around the corner, it’s a good time to look at those unused vacation days. Is there a way to adjust schedules so your business has adequate staffing while ensuring everyone enjoys the holidays?

It’s not too soon to start thinking about 2019, either. Employees who plan ahead are more likely to use their time off and increase their happiness. Those who planned for vacation days were 57 percent happier with their companies, 56 percent happier with their jobs, 81 percent happier with their personal relationships and 56 percent happier with their physical health and well-being. That’s a whole lot of happy.

Time off from work is just as important as time spent at work. Happy and healthy employees remain the best asset a company can have.