Are people taking enough time away from work?

'If people are just having to cram in order to go on vacation, that’s undoing the benefits'

Are people taking enough time away from work?

Time-off tax is defined as employees putting in extra hours just before taking vacation.

Encouragingly, a recent survey done by ADP Canada is showing that those extra hours are shrinking:

An average of 18 hours of additional work was clocked by employees, found the survey.

However, this represented two hours less than the levels of extra work seen in 2020, which points to good news for overworked employees.

This should be celebrated by conscientious HR professionals who ought to know the real value vacations bring to the organization, says an academic.

“If they’re monitoring time off, they should be letting managers and people know that they need to take time off well before it’s crunch time. Maybe there’s a role for having policies that deals specifically with the issue of the time-off tax, so making sure that that there’s always a plan in place for allowing people to go on vacation and come back without having a pile-up of work,” says Karen Foster, associate dean research department of sociology and social anthropology at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

Is providing unlimited vacation days an effective way to drive employee engagement? Maybe, says another report.

Vacation time benefits both sides

Taking time away to recharge or reboot is a valuable tool that benefits both employee and employer, according to Foster.

“There’s an inter-disciplinary body of research that looks at the benefits of vacation, in sociology and in psychology, and all of it points to the benefits of taking a break, whether just relaxing and restoring or if you go somewhere and you expose yourself to new ways of thinking, outside of your specialization. There’s also benefits socially that if you go somewhere with a group of people and form closer bonds, all the stuff that all of us intuitively know, vacation does for people is confirmed by research.”

And on the flip side, the opposite is true of overwork. “So if people are just having to cram in order to go on vacation, that’s undoing the benefits,” says Foster.

As well, regular vacations can impact an employee’s home-life, especially for workers who have other responsibilities outside the workplace.

“Not to be too dramatic, but if people weren’t able to get the time they needed and if we were all being overworked, the fabric of society would come apart, because there’s just a ton of work that happens outside of work that keeps the whole world running,” she says. “There’s no end to the downsides of not enough vacation.”

Better workers after vacations

When employees are able to step away for a week, it means a positive outcome for the organizations, she says.

“There’s the utilitarian perspective that… if you’re an employer and all you care about is the bottom line, even vacations are good because workers tend to come back from vacation more productive; they’re happier, they’re probably more likely to stay and to dedicate themselves while they are there.”

In order to truly compel employees to see the value in vacations, sometimes organizational attitudes need adjusting.

“Certainly, in my own life, there’s an emphasis on ‘You need to take your vacation time’ but sometimes the culture doesn’t actually line up with that. The upper administration can be saying one thing but then not investing in the functions of the workplace, such that your workload is increasing and increasing,” says Foster.

“I do think that I think that there’s a recognition that people do need time off, and that a rested worker is a more productive worker but I don’t think it always translates into practice.”

Leadership and vacation time

This behaviour change can easily be accomplished when leaders also recognize the importance of vacations, she says.

“If you’re in charge of workers, you have to take time off and show them that work is not the cornerstone of life… you really need to do that because if you’re answering emails at night, and on vacation, or if you’re not taking your time off, and wearing it like some badge of honour, your employees are not going to take their time off either.”

“The biggest thing is modelling it, and then really paying attention to people’s workloads, concerns and complaints. I think a lot of big organizations, they’ll do a survey and find out that everybody feels overworked and they might shrug it off, like people are being whiny but we really need to take that stuff seriously,” says Foster.

The role for HR is also key to making that culture change stick.

“Like a lot of us, HR professionals sometimes get driven by the policy or the procedure, or the paperwork or whatever and [it’s about] just taking a step back and saying: ‘My function in this organization is to make sure that work is not exploitative, and that people are being treated fairly, and that they have good lives at and outside of work,’ and we should all want that for each other.”

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