The Virtue of Vacation: Reaping Rewards from PTO

Look around. The flowers are starting to bloom, birds are singing, and the sun is finally out. While the harsh winter is still fresh in your mind, now is the time to be thinking about summer – summer vacations, that is. You can already imagine the revolving door of last-minute vacation requests that will come across your desk. Last year’s summer calendar nearly caused your team to miss the Q3 number. You are laser focused on your team’s goals, but you also want to ensure that your hardworking employees get their much needed vacation time.

The summer vacation challenge sneaks up on us every year, but a little communication and advance planning can turn this perennial challenge into a managerial advantage. I recommend leaders do three things to get ahead of this year’s summer vacation demands:

  1. Embrace the true value of vacation time (in earnest).
  2. Encourage employees to take vacation (sincerely).
  3. Create a proactive vacation plan (now).

Summer Vacation Requests

1. Embrace the true value of vacation time (in earnest).

I cannot emphasize the importance of this first step. So many leaders I work with do not fundamentally trust or believe in the value of vacation. Some are happy to give it lip service, but in the back of their hard-charging minds, vacation is for “everyone else.” With this mindset, it should come as no surprise that planning for summer vacations is an afterthought. Yet, plenty of data exists to show that the “too cool for vacation” mindset will ultimately backfire.

Let’s start with the legitimate concern around lost productivity. Studies have shown that more time off doesn’t have to translate into lower productivity. “Nine of the top 10 most productive countries….were in Europe” where vacation time is more commonly used. While the ambition to get ahead is sometimes cited as a reason to skip vacation, this notion has also been debunked. A 2016 report found “workers who took 11 or more vacation days were more likely to have received a raise or a bonus….than workers who took 10 or fewer days.” And finally, let’s not forget the health benefits related to time off. One study found that people who work more than 55 hours a week are 33% more likely to suffer a stroke and have a 13% greater risk of heart attack than those who work 35-40 hours weekly.

2. Encourage employees to take vacation (sincerely).

The benefits of taking a vacation are compelling, but only if you take one. Once you become a “vacation believer,” your next step is to sincerely encourage your employees to take a vacation. Dozens of studies have been done to illustrate the fear employees have about actually using the vacation time they are given. Nearly half (49%) of American workers said they can’t vacation because their workloads are too heavy, and 42% of those survey respondents said they felt they couldn’t take all their paid vacation days because there weren’t enough people to cover for them. I encourage leaders to go beyond vacation lip service by modeling some important behaviors. First, take a vacation. Of all of the many things we ask our leaders to do, this should be one of the easiest and most enjoyable. Second, respect vacation time. There is no point in encouraging an employee to take a vacation if her phone is blowing up with work matters the entire time. That kind of “vacation” would have been more relaxing in the office. Send a strong message (sample email) that contacting employees who are on vacation is frowned upon and start by breaking that habit yourself.

3. Create a proactive vacation plan (now).

Once you have created a culture that encourages vacation, it is time to get tactical. Planning ahead is the best way to avoid a vacation-related productivity hit. First, make summer vacation planning an explicit team activity. If you have not already done so, announce you will be managing summer vacation requests at your next team meeting. Take the perceived stigma out of vacation by having a group conversation about where people like to vacation and places they have been. Next, let the group know the process for getting approval for their summer vacation. Let them know the coverage expectations and establish a first come, first served approval system to encourage planning ahead and to reduce favoritism. With enough lead time, you can also communicate ways (sample email) your team will be asked to support each other when they are out, reducing the need to interrupt an employee’s coveted time off. And finally, consider a visual scheduling tool so the team can see when various vacations have been planned. The visual will remind people to get their requests in, and enable employees to plan for their colleague’s absences. A number of tools already exist to help with this – from Google Calendar to specific tracking tools like Teamweek.

The good news is that even short vacations go a long way. “Most people have better life perspective and are more motivated to achieve their goals after a vacation, even if it is a 24-hour time-out,” according to psychologist and stress expert Francine Lederer. From culture to calendar, promoting vacation can go a long way to energize your team and engender loyalty among hardworking employees. To learn more about how Inspire works with clients to build winning cultures, contact me at [email protected] or (917) 612-8571.