Time Off Can Be Time Well Spent


How much vacation do we really need to stay productive? Should employees be expected to stay connected to their work during the precious days they are away from the office?

“A recent study of more than 5,600 workers conducted by CareerBuilder found that 12% of participants say they feel guilty that they’re not at work while they’re on vacation. Of the majority of workers planning some time away from work, three in 10 aim to take the office with them on vacation. Thirty percent reported they will contact work on their time off, up from 25% in 2010, according to CareerBuilder.”1 

These statistics fascinate me, because while it’s true that vacation time is essential for employees’ health, the expectations we set—both spoken and unspoken—for how vacation time is spent seem to add stress to what should be a refreshing time.

Several companies have responded to this trend by implementing an unlimited vacation policy. Employees operate on the honor system—as long as they get their work done, it doesn’t matter where they do it. This benefits businesses by encouraging employees to take time off throughout the year, rather than hoarding vacation days, which creates wild workforce swings as employees scramble to spend their vacation days at the end of their year.

On the surface, this policy intrigues me, but it seems like this strategy works best when employees “own” their performance. Or, to put it another way, to remain productive with unlimited vacation days, employees would need to work as if they owned the business. A business owner, for example, rarely takes vacation during the company’s busiest season. A landscaper would never dream of vacationing at the height of summer, yet when given unlimited vacation time, employees may not show the same level of ownership and discernment.

I believe vacation time improves employees’ health and productivity; however, rather than giving staff unlimited vacation time, the key is to ensure that they truly take a break from workplace stressors. As CareerBuilder’s statistics reveal, many employees work during their vacations. Even worse, employees spend their time off dreading the piles of work that accumulate during their absence. An inbox overflowing with urgent emails is enough to negate the effects of a vacation in a single day.

So, the question is, how can a company give its employees a true break? There are likely several creative ideas.  For example, employers might encourage their staff to leave laptops at the office and ignore email or voicemail during vacations.  Employers might also implement a staffing model that ensures coverage while an employee is on vacation to eliminate or minimize the amount work that the employee finds upon their return.  In any case, establishing the value of time off and respecting the time employees spend out of the office (i.e. not allowing staff to pull vacationing employees into workplace issues through phone calls, urgent emails, etc.) helps employees rest during their time off.

One thing is certain.  Solving this issue will increase employee loyalty, reduce sick leave, increase productivity, and motivate a more positive work environment, all of which reminds us that time off can be time well spent.

How do you handle vacation time at your workplace? Do you find that you can truly relax when you’re out of the office?

I’d enjoy hearing your suggestions – leave a comment below.


1“Unlimited Vacation Doesn’t Create Slackers—It Ensures Productivity,” by Lydia Dishman, Fast Company