In Western Europe 20 to 30 days of vacation time is the norm. In Canada and the US, two to three weeks is the general rule. Unfortunately, the term “general rule” does not always apply. In many jurisdictions, employees are always entitled to vacation pay, but not necessarily their vacation time. While it’s clear that employers benefit when their workers have adequate time off, the onus on protecting those benefits relies on carefully crafted vacation policies.
What are the benefits of strong vacation policies to employers?
According to a study released by US Travel, more than 40% of Americans don’t take their allotted vacation time to the tune of “wasting” 658 million vacation days. Why? According to the researchers, we are so used to being connected to our jobs all the time, we don’t really know how to disconnect.
“Technological advancements have irreversibly changed the way we work—in many ways for the better—but the omnipresent office requires being intentional about our time,” said Project: Time Off Senior Director and report author Katie Denis. “Americans need to decide whether vacation will become a casualty of the new working world or if we will change to win back America’s Lost Week.”
Being unable to disconnect from work means that we aren’t taking a break from stress. That represents a huge risk to employee health. According to a study of middle-aged men at risk of heart disease, those who had skipped vacations over the past five years were 30% more likely to have a heart attack. That means that employers are at risk of losing the productivity of highly-experienced workers who don’t take vacations to medical emergencies.
“An overwhelming majority (85%) of talent managers at “Use it or Lose it” organizations agree that employees who take most or all of their vacation time are more productive in their jobs” (1)
On the work-life balance front, employees who take their vacations with their families experience greater personal stability that reflects on their work.
Vacation policy is as important as office design
When employees are at work, good office design and environmental quality protections, help to ensure that they are happy, healthy and productive. Well-ventilated, well-lit and properly furnished offices are an important step toward creating an atmosphere that promotes wellness and work-life balance. No one needs to go home with aching wrists or a sore back from workstations that are improperly-sized, that allow for no variation in movement and make no attempts at meeting ergonomic principles.
But, as nice as it is to work in an office that has all those stellar qualities, it doesn’t meet the needs employees have to spend quality time with their friends and families, enjoy the outdoors and physical activity, or to pursue interests that inform their imaginations in ways that their jobs may not. And then, there is the fact that we all need some downtime to relax and recharge to be productive.
Vacation policy trends
Several workplace trends are at play to help employees realize the benefits of vacation. Here are our favourites:
1. The 90%, or even 80% summer
Some offices give everyone a long weekend every other weekend of summer. In fact, there are even enterprises in which all employees put in a 4-day week all summer long. It does, however, involve a cut in pay. Employees work for 90% of the salaries to take every other Friday or Monday off or 80% to take every Friday or Monday off all summer long.
2. Time in lieu
Overtime payments in non-union environments are often difficult to calculate and, for many people, the additional hit in taxes mean that there is no economic advantage to putting in extra time. As a result, many companies are offering their employees time off in lieu of overtime. Extra time put in during the “crunch” before a project milestone or deadline is banked so that employees can extend their vacations.
3. Unlimited Vacation Days
Offering unlimited vacation days can be a successful option for some companies when properly managed. The trends for success in unlimited vacation policies are: employees need to manage their work, it should be anchored in the company values, the why behind the policy clearly communicated, and usage guidelines put in place (i.e. how employees can request time off). A report from one company that implemented unlimited vacations for one year said their employees considered this to be one of their most appreciated benefits.
4. Leave of Absence
While leave of absence polices have been applied in the past for unpleasant times, such as the illness or death of a family member, a growing number of companies are allowing employees to take an extended leave to achieve their dreams such as travelling around the world, learning a foreign language by immersion in a place, or to spend time with family members separated by distance and immigration.
5. The nonacademic sabbatical
Academics have always had ever seventh year off to pursue their area of study without teaching or research project demands. Increasingly, industry has been offering their employees the chance to bank 1/6th of their salaries for six years to take the 7th year off at the same rate of pay.
In every case, these trends reflect a growing respect for employee wellness and the need to truly disconnect from the work place. They are policies that work to reduce stress, enable relaxation and to create a sense of joy that employees will bring back to the office with them.
- The findings are based on a survey conducted between August 22 and September 5, 2013 of 481 randomly selected, U.S.-based human resource professionals at the director level or above from among SHRM’s membership.