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Vacation Maximization: Why You Should Want Your Employees to Disconnect


Ahhhh… the lazy, hazy days of summer — they’re coming to an end. This summer, some of you may have taken a much-anticipated vacation to tour an unexplored city, take in local attractions and festivals, lie on a beach and more. But for roughly one-quarter of Canadian workers, that doesn’t appear to be the case. In 2014, staffing firm Robert Half released the results of its survey regarding vacation time usage among Canadian workers, revealing that 26 per cent of respondents don’t use the full vacation allotment provided by their employer.

From this group:

  • 40% claimed it was because they had too much work to do and feared falling behind
  • 24% said they saved their vacation time in case of emergency
  • 13% say they didn’t want a vacation

The good news is that only one per cent of respondents said it was because their managers frowned upon it. And what of the remaining 74% of employees who use their full employer-provided vacation? Does it mean that they’re actually unplugging, recharging, and disconnecting? One would hope, but we can’t be sure.

For federally-regulated industries, the Canada Labour Code stipulates a minimum vacation provision of two weeks’ per year. For employees of non-federally-regulated industries, vacation entitlement and vacation pay are two of the many employment standards governed by the provinces/territories, and these differ by jurisdiction. (Make sure you’re compliant! Visit the employment standards sections of HR Council or Ceridian).

So, the question is: Should your organization encourage or even mandate employees to use that vacation, and can you teach them how to maximize its benefits? Here are some strategies you can put in place to support vacation:

  • Set the tone. Employees need to see their leaders using their vacation time. If your organization has fostered a culture in which employees are fearful to take vacation at risk of appearing undedicated, you need to shift that culture. In one CCH Human Resource Management study, 50% of respondents who had taken a vacation said they felt “rested, rejuvenated, and reconnected to their personal life” and 40% said they “felt more productive and better about their job” upon returning to work. Bottom line: Vacations support productivity, energy, creativity, innovation, accuracy, and more.
  • Encourage your managers to gain a solid understanding of the scope of employee job roles, and to recognize and address overload. Your managers should be hosting regular team meetings to stay on top of workload and to become well-versed in team members’ specific responsibilities. Overload is a key factor in an employee’s decision not to take vacation, and nearly 70% of respondents to Project: Time Off’s vacation survey said they would be more likely to use their vacation if their manager was prepared to take on some of the load in their absence. If managers aren’t dialed into individual employee experiences, they may not even be aware of feelings of overload. The more aware team leaders are of workload and cadence, the more likely they are to know about typical downtimes, enabling them to be proactive in encouraging vacation and minimizing the impact of an absence.
  • Ensure your managers feel confident delegating so they can also take a proper vacation. Supervisors need to be able to trust that their employees can handle outstanding issues or emergencies in their absence. If employees are blind-sided by something about which they have limited knowledge, or they spend lots of time struggling to fix a problem because of an oversight, there’s a good chance that a vacationing manager will have to be contacted anyway — which defeats the purpose of a vacation.
  • Instruct managers to host “vacation discussions” with their teams to plan for the season. According to Project: Time-Off, despite the fact that a large proportion of managers say they respect the value of vacations and support their employees in taking time off, two-thirds of U.S. employees say they hear “nothing, mixed messages, or negative messages” from their managers with regards to vacation.
  • Consider a “gatekeeper” and “vacation pass-over” document. A gatekeeper is a colleague to be in charge of a vacationing employee’s affairs. Ideally, this person should be familiar with his or her teammate’s responsibilities, and should be able to troubleshoot. A detailed vacation pass-over document could include a complete list of projects and their status, timelines, as well as the names of internal stakeholders involved. Again, the more clear a person can be about what may arise in his absence, the better off the whole team will be.
  • Establish an “electronics-free” vacation policy. Although you can’t police this — unless you’re prepared to suspend network access and cell service for employees on vacation — employers can and should remind employees that mental disconnection from work is the right thing to do. Vacation is intended to be a time to leave work worries behind, and if an employee is constantly monitoring her smartphone and email and managing work-related issues, what’s the point?
  • If your organization offers a “vacation roll-over” option enabling employees to push unused time into the next calendar year, you may wish to re-assess it: In a 2014 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) study conducted with U.S. employers, roughly 80 to 100% of workers employed by organizations who didn’t offer vacation roll-over took their total earned vacation, as opposed to just 31% in organizations that offered a roll-over option. Although vacation roll-over may have benefits for employees wishing to embark on global journeys and adventures that demand more time off, it also begs the question about whether employees are able to use the rolled-over vacation when the time comes. As per the survey’s 480 respondents, 60% of employers offer a vacation roll-over option.
  • Consider sharing “vacation maximization” tips with all employees. These simple strategies can help employees continue to feel refreshed upon their return, and avoid “post-vacation blues.”
    • Organize your first day back — even before you leave. On your last day of work before a vacation, tie up loose ends, then organize a to-do list ready for your return. This will help you relax on holidays, and feel organized when you return, even if you are back at work in body but not in spirit.
    • Live in the now. Try to practice “being in the present” while away. Avoid thinking about responsibilities, tasks, or concerns that await you.
    • Allow for transition time. If possible, plan at least one day before and one day after returning from holidays to allow for transition time in both preparing for the vacation and easing back into your routine without an abrupt change. If possible, access emails/voicemails on your transition day to avoid feeling bombarded when you return to work.
    • Enjoy the anticipation. Spontaneous, last-minute holidays don’t create an opportunity for anticipation and excitement. It’s best to plan ahead so you can reap all the benefits from a vacation.
    • Plan ahead. Start thinking about your next vacation when you return so you have something to look forward to!

According to Project: Time-Off, despite a commonly-held belief that the more hours we log, the more likely we are to rise to the top, employees who take vacations are actually more likely to get a promotion and a raise. Shaping an environment that promotes the value of vacations — and ensures employees feel entitled to take them — is key.

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