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Why Employers Should Encourage Employee Downtime

12/16/2015 02:49 EST | Updated 12/16/2016 05:12 EST
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As the end of the year draws closer and the number of working days shrinks, there are undoubtedly thousands of workers faced with the same dilemma: unused vacation days.

For the workforce, there's no consistency about what happens to leftover vacation days. Companies may provide the option of rolling days into the following month, quarter or year. Others may simply be paid out for days that aren't used.

But determining what happens to unused days shouldn't be a priority.

Instead, employers should be doing what they can to ensure employees can use all of their vacation days. And I don't mean a working vacation -- I'm talking about true downtime.

Downtime shouldn't be just a recruitment tactic

For job-seekers, one factor that may be make-or-break when accepting a job offer is the vacation allotment. If offer number one comes with two weeks of vacation, yet offer number two offers three weeks, it is likely the latter will win over the candidate.

Time is money. That extra week of vacation has a salary value.

Vacation shouldn't be something that's promised to get a candidate through the door only for them to later learn that using those days is nearly impossible. Some companies may implement blackout periods to maintain service levels, but an employee should still be able to take advantage of their vacation allotment.

Not granting vacation time to employees, or making it difficult for employees to take the time off that they need, may have a negative effect on the employer brand. It could also lead to diminished morale and if it ends up being a regular occurrence, could motivate employees to jump ship.

burnout

The risk of burnout

Employers have a duty to stakeholders to ensure that their business is consistent and uninterrupted. Clients and customers expect continuous service. Targets or quotas may need to be met.

In today's highly-connected workforce, many employees are expected to be available and responsive to email beyond the traditional nine-to-five workday. The amount of work-life balance can vary greatly, but it's crucial that employees have the opportunity to take full advantage of days off. This means not being on the hook for responding to emails or attending conference calls.

Being overworked can negatively impact employee health. For instance, there is a correlation between long working hours and a higher risk of stroke. If you couple overwork with inadequate downtime, there is a very real risk of burnout.

Vacation time can recharge one's batteries and lead to improved productivity, more creativity and more effective collaboration.

A positive impact in the workplace

While time is money, money doesn't always buy happiness. A healthy salary may not be enough to keep an employee content if they are consistently missing out on opportunities to spend quality time with family and friends.

Employee vacations can have a positive benefit on the overall workplace. It doesn't necessarily have to be a month-long sojourn. Whether it's a long weekend or a two-week trip abroad, vacation time can recharge one's batteries and lead to improved productivity, more creativity and more effective collaboration.

Keeping the engine running

There's more to employee downtime than the days they're out of the office. For many in the workforce, the crunch before a vacation and the rush to catch up upon return can lead to heightened stress levels. A recent survey by Expedia found that more than two-thirds of working Canadians reported feeling stressed just prior to, during, or after a vacation.

Many of us have likely dealt with the repercussions of having tasks fall off the radar while we've been out of the office. Certainly, this makes the prospect of taking a vacation seem like an uphill battle for many. In order to have a positive impact, taking vacation shouldn't be that stressful.

Whenever possible, managers should work with employees and wider teams to ensure there is continuity while an employee is on vacation. By making this a standard practice in the workplace, it can help employees to breathe easier and get the rest they need to come back recharged and rejuvenated.

The burden of unused days

Encouraging employee happiness and wellness is important, but you should also consider the impact those unused days may have on your bottom line. Unused vacation can be a liability. An Oxford Economics report, commissioned by Project Time Off in the United States, found that the average vacation liability per employee totals $1,898 -- and in some companies, this number totals more than $12,000. Multiply that by 500 employees and you're looking at a potentially significant burden.

You may want to consider limiting the amount of days that can be carried over into subsequent years or offering payouts for unused days; however, the practice that is likely to make the most positive impact on your business is to make it a priority to encourage -- and enable -- employees to use their allotted vacation days.