Canadians view vacations as medicine for the body, mind and soul — but nearly one in five do not take all the vacation days they are entitled to and 59 per cent feel vacation-deprived, according to an international survey by Expedia. If your company rates similar to those statistics, it could be in trouble.
It may be easy to fall into the trap of thinking employees who don’t use up their allotted time are costing the company less. However, employees who don’t use all of their vacation are probably costing the company more in the long run. They may experience more stress-related symptoms such as mood swings, racing thoughts, frustration, irritability, pessimism, feeling rushed, pushed or tired, more headaches, sleep difficulties and gastrointestinal disorders.
Overworked and vacation-deprived employees may not communicate as effectively, have less patience for those around them, may not problem-solve as efficiently and not be as creative or energized as those who do take their allotted vacation time.
Excessive hours spent on the job without adequate breaks away can negatively impact a person’s mental and physical health and mean less quality time with friends and loved ones.
This can lead to lower engagement and productivity through increased sick time, accident rates, burnout and benefit costs.
We know vacations are good for us — 93 per cent of respondents to the Expedia survey said they felt more relaxed and rejuvenated after a vacation, and 78 per cent reported being more focused at work.
Women who take regular vacations are less likely to become tense, depressed or tired and are more satisfied with their marriage than their non-vacationing counterparts.
Even those in the planning phase of a vacation had higher happiness scores than those not going away, which the researchers said was due to holiday anticipation.
It is becoming increasingly difficult for employees to break away and enjoy a real vacation. Work demands often play a role in not using all of one’s vacation time — almost 40 per cent say they have cancelled or postponed vacation plans because of work, and 38 per cent say they regularly or constantly check work email or voicemail while on vacation, found the Expedia survey.
To truly benefit from vacation time, it is important that employees use all of their allotted time. For most individuals, taking a day here or there is not enough to fully relieve built-up stress.
Workers need to set up specific periods devoted to relaxation, to release accumulated tension and return to work recharged and ready to go.
The ideal length of time for a major vacation is seven to 10 days. It generally takes three to four days for your body to revert to its ideal sleeping pattern and energy cycle.
Most people feel ready to return to work refreshed and rejuvenated after this seven- to 10-day period.
Long weekends are great as a way to supplement a major vacation throughout the year. However, if a person has not had a vacation in the last five years, a long weekend is not going to provide him with much benefit.
HR should examine patterns
It may not be the employee that is the problem — some leaders make it very difficult for people to take time off. There are leaders who see vacation time as a nuisance and a disruption to the productivity of the group.
They are working under the false belief that more in always equals more out. Unfortunately, our bodies and minds can only work at peak efficiency for so long before they start to break down and shut down.
Human resources professionals need to evaluate the vacation usage within their corporate teams to see if there are individuals who may be on the verge of burnout. They also need to look for patterns that indicate some leaders are hindering the use of vacation time.
When it comes to attraction and retention, companies that go with the bare minimum number of vacation days will be left behind as younger workers comparison shop.
Work-life satisfaction is a critical component when deciding which job is the right job, and which employer is the right employer.
Human resources professionals can assist employees in using their allotted time by encouraging them to book time early in the year — before projects and deadlines derail their planned time away. It is also important to work with team leaders to monitor the mental health and stress levels within a team.
Promoting a philosophy around corporate wellness and its importance for corporate success to these team leaders can help them foster an environment where using vacation time is seen as a positive.
Encourage leaders to work with their teams on ensuring a smooth transition to vacation time, minimizing disruptions and contact with the workplace while on vacation, and a stress-free return to work from vacation.
Communication is important at all stages and human resources professionals are in a key position to promote these healthy discussions.
Focus on wellness
In a day and age when dollars are tight and new wellness programs are difficult to initiate, we need to look at the programs in place to see if they are effective and efficient.
As employers, we have a responsibility to ensure the work environment promotes health and not illness.
Vacation benefits are a part of most corporate wellness programs. Vacation usage and the ability to disconnect during vacation time need to be evaluated, as they can be early indicators of individual and team difficulties, which may negatively impact the corporate culture.
Vacation usage needs to be promoted to ensure employees see the company as caring about their well-being. This can help to ensure the company is an employer of choice.
Having physically and mentally healthy employees who are not vacation-deprived will positively impact your bottom line.
Beverly Beuermann-King is a health and wellness expert and author who is often used as an expert commentator in national publications. For more information, visit www.worksmartlivesmart.com.
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