Employee: Leave! Encourage workers to use vacation time

As the year-end approaches, take an inventory of employees who haven’t taken their vacations yet, and suggest they book a getaway.

Vacation skipping has become an epidemic. The U.S. Census Bureau says that 79 percent of American workers have access to paid vacations. However, about a third of employees don’t take a full-week’s vacation during the year.

Employees who skip vacation time make more mistakes, dislike their jobs, act irritable with co-workers and become vulnerable to burnout. Yet people who take week-long vacations return to work in a better frame of mind than those who simply grab a long weekend here and there.

Here are two ways to encourage employees to use their vacation time:

1. Make vacation a use-it-or-lose-it perk. Don’t allow employees to carry over vacation days to the next year, and don’t let them exchange unused time for pay.

FMLA Compliance D

About 30 percent of employers have use-it-or-lose-it vacation policies and more are adopting them, says Rosanna Milley of Mercer HR Consulting.

Balance that policy with detailed scheduling to make sure everyone can take time while keeping productivity high.

2. Provide incentives to exhaust vacation time. Position this pitch as part of the organization’s concern about employee wellness. Some companies offer concrete incentives to employees who take their vacations, including:

  • RAND Corp., based in California, awards a 5 percent bonus to employees who use all their vacation days.
  • MITRE employs a paid-time-off bank and allows employees to cash out their time only after they have used at least 40 hours a year.
  • PricewaterhouseCoopers notifies supervisors when a subordinate is about to forfeit vacation time under the use-it-or-lose-it policy. That allows the supervisor to urge the employee to take the leave and even lighten the workload if that helps push the employee out the door.

Average paid vacation days

Length of service     Small businesses     Medium/large businesses

1 year                           7.7 days                         10.1 days
3 years                        10.0                                11.4
5 years                        12.3                                15.0
10 years                      14.5                                18.1
15 years                      15.5                                20.1
20 years                      16.0                                21.3
25 years                      16.4                                22.3

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2005