Everyone loves a vacation — in theory, at least. We know that vacations can relieve stress, help us unwind, and let us spend valuable time with loved ones away from the responsibilities of work. But studies have found that, while 90% of managers say they encourage their employees to take paid time off, the signals are getting lost in translation.
In fact, 68% of workers report hearing nothing, mixed messages, or negative sentiments about employees taking advantage of their vacation days. This results in employees failing to use the vacation days to which they are entitled. In 2015, Americans used 16.2 days of vacation on average, but we leave 658 million vacation days unused every year.
Although 78% of executives believe that vacations are necessary to prevent burnout, employees just aren’t taking the time they’re owed. One reason for this might be that employees are getting the impression that they’re replaceable and choose to forgo vacation days out of fear. Even those workers who do use their paid time off often say that they still check their work-related email accounts and do other work while on vacation.
The reality is that workers are actually more productive if they take a vacation. Wholly 75% of executives feel that getaways can improve personal job performance, and nearly 68% believe that vacations can improve their creativity level. Many businesses don’t have decreased productivity due to vacations. On the contrary, many companies have found that their employees are usually less stressed, healthier, and happier when they take advantage of time off.
The bottom line is that when employees are discouraged from taking vacations, the company has to pay the price. Unused vacation days led to $272 billion in costs for employers — a 21% increase in the last year. Publicly traded companies have to report unused PTO as a liability to the Securities and Exchange Commission. This is because this time off is considered to be money owed to the employees in one way or another.
Project: Time Off, the travel industry trade group behind many of these studies, highlights the benefits of vacation time and how businesses can encourage their employees to take it. Some companies, like the Motley Fool, hold regular vacation drawings. When an employee wins two weeks off, he or she has to take that time within the next month. The U.S. Travel Association offered a $500 stipend to employees who used all of their vacation time. As a result, the percentage of employees who did so shot up from 19% to 91% in the span of a year. Other companies offer their workers large bonuses for disconnecting on vacation. If they get “caught” working during vacation, they lose the bonus. And still other businesses are looking to Netflix’s unlimited vacation policy as a model.
Ultimately, using vacation days helps both the employer and employee, but the scope goes even further than that. A previous study by Project: Time Off found that taking a vacation helps the entire economy. If every employee used every one of his or her vacation days, Americans would generate $223 billion in economic activity and be responsible for creating 1.6 million new jobs.
Although learning to unplug and take that time off can be a difficult task for many workers, it’s important to do so for the sake of your health, your job, and your economy. Whether employees and bosses will choose to embrace this mindset remains to be seen.