Don’t Waste Your Vacation Days!

Taking vacation days is important to employee wellness. So why doesn't everyone use their time off?

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We know that taking time off of work can be rejuvenating. Previously, we’ve shared the benefits of vacation and even some tips on how to ensure your return to work after is successful. However, we know that people often don’t take all of their vacation days. Recent research dives into why people don’t use their paid time off and what leaders can do about it!

Why Don’t People Use Vacation Days?

Certain types of people are more likely to take vacation days than others. Women use more of their vacation time but traditional family roles contribute to using more days. In addition, older employees, employees that have children, and employees with a higher socioeconomic status are all more likely to use their time off. All makes sense, right? If you have kids, you are more likely to take time off to coincide with some of their breaks from school or take time to care for them. If you have more money, taking vacation is much easier. Often being older might be associated with more saving for vacations or possibly more tenure in a role, which makes taking time off feel easier.

In addition, there are some psychological factors that impact taking time off. Recent research describes the importance of detachment self-efficacy and vacation outcome expectations.

If you can’t disconnect from work, what’s the point of taking a vacation?

Detachment Self-Efficacy

Self-efficacy is the belief that something you do will have a desired outcome. We say someone has self-efficacy if they believe they can do something. At work, a self-efficacious employee believes they can do the job. Detachment self-efficacy is a play on this concept but is specific to this vacation context. An employee has detachment self-efficacy if they believe they can fully detach from work when on vacation.

As you can imagine, if you don’t think you can detach from work, you might not take time off. That’s exactly what the research finds! When people believe they can’t really disconnect from their jobs, they don’t see a point in taking time off and, thus, they don’t. Unfortunately, a lot of people feel this way because of the culture at work, creating a cycle of burnout.

Vacation Outcome Expectations

In addition to not believing they can detach from work, employees also have specific expectations of what will happen due to vacation. Two expectations are particularly important as employees decide whether or not to take time off. First, if employees expect that a vacation will make them feel relaxed, they are much more likely to use their days off. Similar to detachment self-efficacy, employees might feel that there’s no point to take a vacation if it won’t be relaxing. Employees might not feel like vacation is relaxing for a variety of reasons. Maybe it’s because they can’t detach from work. Maybe they have had bad experiences taking big family trips so they avoid them. Whatever the reason, if employees don’t expect to relax, a vacation isn’t taken.

Second, employees’ expectations of financial consequences also impacts their decisions to take time off. If they expect to get into debt or if their savings will take a hit, it makes sense that they’d avoid using vacation days. This is particularly unfortunate because we know that it’s not the act of leaving town that can be rejuvenating. Just disconnecting from work, even if at home, can be incredibly important to avoid burnout.

Vacations need to be a time to relax and get away from work!

What Can Leaders Do?

Employees need time to recover from their jobs. It’s critical in order for employees to continue performing and thriving in their jobs. So what can organizations and leaders do? First and foremost, let employees disconnect! Make sure your employees can actually detach from work. Leaders should model good behavior and not respond to emails and messages unless there’s a true emergency. If employees see leaders disconnecting, then they will feel like it’s ok to do it too. Create a culture that allows people to take real breaks from work so they can show up and be their best.

Second, organizations should consider ways to ensure employees have good expectations for their vacations. Money concerns can be aided by paying employees fairly. Some companies have even started providing ‘paid paid vacations’, where employees get an allowance of money to spend during their vacation time. Leaders can encourage employees to take time to relax and disconnect. They need to be open about the importance of taking time away from work to relax – even if it doesn’t mean traveling. Some leaders have practiced taking time off during the pandemic, even though it often meant staying local. Practicing good disconnecting and time-off protocol can help employees do the same.

Overall, research backs up the importance of taking vacations and leaders need to ensure employees use their paid time off.

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