People & Culture

Should we send employees home to improve employee engagement?

When people tell me can't take their vacation, I don’t hear “hard-working hero,” I hear “tired, run-down, probably making bad decisions every day.”

Reward Gateway’s 360 staff live and work in six countries – UK, USA, Australia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Portugal. We offer the same amount of paid time off – 35 days, including public holidays, all across the world. It’s something most surprising to our US team. The most common reaction to it at recruitment is “what will I do with all of that?

We’ve known for years that American workers take less holiday than colleagues in other countries But new data by the economic research organization Project Time Off shows that since 2000, the number of day vacation being taken has actually fallen in the US from an average of 20.3 days to an average of 16 days.

Despite receiving far lower vacation allowances that their peers in the UK and Australia, 55% of Americans did not use all of their vacation in 2015. In fact, a staggering 658 million days of paid time off were not taken, a third of them not rolled over, just lost. This costs out at $61.4 billion in unclaimed vacation benefits. This echoes another study done by Glassdoor in 2014 which found the average American employee took only half their allotted days off.

But don’t be fooled that this is an extra $61.4 billion in improved business efficiency or profits because its not. Workplace stress, absenteeism, fatigue and burn out are at record levels. It’s also not helping with overall American productivity – growth here has flattened off in recent years.

The problem is that this is happening at exactly the same time that technology is breaking down the barriers between work and home. So when we’re not at work, we’re still at work. This in itself isn’t a bad thing – work becoming something that you do rather than somewhere that you go has opened a whole new era of flexibility, allowing many professionals to work in a manner more suited to themselves and also re-opening the working world to many people who couldn’t make fixed hours and fixed locations work.

But that merging of work and home, the integration of work and personal life, that itself increases the need for proper time off, on vacation, resting, recharging and not thinking about work. I see a huge difference in the mood, outlook, pace and enthusiasm of my colleagues and executives when they’ve just had a good holiday.

Personally, I’d prefer it if everyone took good chunk of vacation every quarter so I know they’re in peak condition all year.

When people tell me they’re 10 months down and they’ve still got most of their vacation days, I don’t hear “committed hard-working hero,” I hear “tired, run-down, probably making bad decisions every day.”

A core tenant of great cultures with high levels of employee engagement is the ability to work for great leaders, great managers and with great colleagues doing great work. Work should be busy, full of fun, full of challenges to be overcome and full of debates and discussion about choices to make and plans to execute. All of that relies on leaders, managers, you and your team being mentally and physically in a good place to show good judgement and behaviors. And fatigue and exhaustion is the enemy.

It seems that as managers and leaders we have work to do personally. The same report to found that 60% of employees felt they lacked support from their boss to take vacation. Silence is blamed by many – 65% of employees said they hear nothing, mixed messages or discouraging messages about taking time off.

So, I’m going to start here at home.

To all 360 Reward Gateway staff, I want to be clear.

We have a huge opportunity to deliver and 1,300 clients who are relying on us to be our very best. I need each and every one of you rested, in peak condition and making great judgement calls.

Your colleagues deserve to work for great managers and leaders and be part of great teams. That means we all need to take vacation, enjoy time away from the office, switch off and regroup. Wherever possible avoid carry over, avoid lumping it all to the end of the year.

Taking vacation is no longer just something you do for yourself It’s something you do for all of us.

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