Tips for Creating a Vacation Friendly Culture

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Time has flown by and it’s already nearing the end of 2019. This also means that for many companies, it’s coming up to the deadline to use or lose PTO. It’s the scramble to accommodate, or deny, time off requests, because so many employees wait until the end of the year to use their vacation, if they are using it at all. We took a look at some PTO policies to learn how companies are managing PTO and are sharing some creative, out of the box strategies that are mutually beneficial to employees and employers alike.

According to a 2018 Glassdoor survey, the average American only took 54% of their available time off in the previous 12 months. While there are a variety of reasons for employees to hoard vacation/personal days, a big culprit is employers not encouraging their teams to take time away from the office, or if they do, they may not encourage them to fully disengage from work to recharge. Employees may be expected to stay aware of what’s going on in the office and to jump in if their input is needed — even while on vacation. In that same Glassdoor survey, two-thirds of employees reported still working in some capacity while they were out on PTO, so it doesn’t come as a shock to find that less than a quarter of respondents reported taking all (100%) of their paid days, and a handful even reported not taking any time off at all. Employees don’t find it worth it to take the time off during the year which means they either a) will take several days at the end of the year, or b) leave thousands of dollars in vacation time on the table. Ultimately, the company and the employee both pay the cost.  

Vacation is pivotal for creating a productive workforce and a fulfilled life. It’s essential for better health outcomes, and employees who take time off report greater satisfaction with their jobs and are less likely to experience burnout, which can increase turnover rates and cost companies big bucks. Yet, in 2018 nearly 768 million days were left unused by American workers.

Here are a few creative ways companies are encouraging employees to take their vacation days during the year:

  1. Talk about vacation like it’s a given, not a privilege. Ask employees if they are traveling for the holidays, or taking a summer vacation. Just having the conversation lets employees know that it’s encouraged to take time off. 
  2. Pass around a ‘master calendar’ for everyone to fill out and request days off (different departments or teams should get different calendars). This can help ensure that not too many team members are gone at any one time, and gives management an early heads-up for planning how to work around absences. Passing around the calendar also supports the idea that every employee gets to choose a time to take off.
  3. Use an alternating holiday approach. If your business is open on major holidays, managing vacation requests can be even more difficult. If one person gets Thanksgiving off, then they have to work Christmas or New Year’s Day. If your business isn’t open on the holiday but is on the days surrounding it, the same principles can apply. For instance, if Jane worked on the day after Thanksgiving, she gets priority for the day after Christmas over Dan, who had Black Friday off.
  4. Companies are literally paying their employees to go on vacation, something known as  “paid, paid vacation”. That’s right- just because employees have the days to take off might not mean they have the big budget to take a vacation they so deserve. Companies like Air BnB, FullContact and Expedia grant employees annual vacation stipends/reimbursements to pay for flights, hotels and other travel related costs.  
  5. Offer a grace period. Many companies have a December 31st deadline to use vacation days. Some may offer a rollover. This hard deadline can result in many employees trying to take days all at the same time for fear of losing out on earned PTO. Some companies have chosen to update company policies, stretching the “use it or lose it date” to February or March, which takes pressure off of employees to use all their days in December, and doesn’t leave the entire office empty during some of the busiest times of the year. 
  6. Take your own vacation! Managers who take vacation indirectly let employees know that they too can take time off without being looked negatively or as if they don’t work hard. Everyone deserves a break and it’s beneficial to all. 
  7. Announce a surprise holiday: If you notice your teams aren’t taking their vacation, announce an unplanned holiday where employees can choose to extend their weekend by a day or two. You can even offer employees the option to take half days on the day before major holidays. 
  8. Change the verbiage: rather than referring to days off as “sick”, “vacation” or “bereavement”, refer to them as “personal” or “flexible”. This takes away the pressure of employees feeling like they have to meet certain criteria to request a day off.

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