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Dealing with Vacation Guilt. 7 Reasons Why HR Should Encourage Workers to Take Time Off

Posted by Eric Friedman

vacation guilt work

In 2011, a CareerBuilder study of more than 5,600 workers found that 12 percent had no plans to take a vacation that year. The study also found that another 12 percent felt guilty about being on vacation and not at work, which explains why about 30 percent of workers who did go on vacation stayed in touch with their office.

With a tough economic landscape and unemployment rates still high, it’s no wonder that employees think twice about taking a vacation. Fear of missing out at work—whether a client meeting or a work function—or of being passed over for a new project often acts as a deterrent against taking time off. Yet the toll that working year after year without a break takes can be just too great. Employees get burned out, ideas get stale, and your company may run the risk of losing employees who cave in to the stress.

This is why HR professionals should encourage all employees to take vacations. Our profession, after all, is about taking care of people. There’s a reason it’s called “human” resources, not “employee” resources. Time off is part of what helps employees stay motivated and happy people.

Here are seven reasons why every HR department should actively encourage employees to take their allotted vacation time.

  1. It’s in their contract. Most full-time employees have a clause in their contract that states how many vacation days they have a year. They should understand that it’s part of their contracted agreement to take their allotted number of days off. Furthermore, they should know that the company includes vacation as part of their salary, so it’s perfectly okay for them to take it.
  2. It’s for their own good. Studies have shown that women who take two or more vacations a year cut their heart attack risk in half, compared to women who take no time off; and men who take frequent breaks are 32% less likely to die of heart disease. A vacation is a chance to rest, and to recharge their batteries. If people know how much stress can impact their health, they may be more inclined to take a break more often.
  3. Work can wait. A lot of the fear of taking a vacation is based on missing out on an opportunity, or of having the work pile up. Encouraging employees to take vacations can act as a way to open a conversation about the work schedule.  Are there certain times of the year when work slows down, so more people can take time off? Or can vacation periods be staggered, so that when someone plans to be away he or she knows that someone else will make sure that nothing falls through the cracks? This will help abate some of the fear and help employees to actually relax during their vacation.
  4. If they don’t use it, they’ll lose it. Some companies allow workers to carry over their vacation days from year to year, but many don’t. It may be that a company offers 20 vacation days a year, and lets you carry over 10, or 7, or 3. Make sure employees know how many days can be carried over and explain to them that if they don’t use the days allotted to them within the specified time, they will lose them.
  5. They’re throwing money away. Also remind them that if they’re not using all of their vacation days they’re not just wasting vacation time, they’re throwing their own money away. Most U.S. workers don’t use all of their vacation days, thus losing an average of three days that are not carried over year to year. That amounts to $20 billion given away by employees annually! If you put forth the vacation argument in monetary terms, they may be more likely to listen.
  6. It’s like hitting the “reset” button. Think about when you reset your phone or computer, and after turning it back on it runs so much faster, with less glitches and much more smoothly. The same happens with people after they take a vacation. They come back relaxed and refreshed, ready to take on new challenges and projects. Of course this only works when the time off is truly restorative, which means no contact with the office or work-related matters.
  7. Even your boss is doing it. Most employees fear taking time off because they think their managers or employers will judge them. However, a CareerBuilder survey conducted in 2012 found that 81 percent of managers planned to take a vacation, compared with 65 percent of full-time employees. Make sure that your senior-level staff members are heeding HR’s advice and setting a good example for the rest of the employees by also taking their allotted vacation time.

Remember, making regular vacation-taking a part of your company’s culture will help keep employees happy and more productive, so they’ll be more likely to keep working for you for a longer time. And this will ultimately benefit your company’s bottom line.

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About Eric Friedman

Author

Eric Friedman is the founder and CEO of eSkill Corporation, a leading provider of Web-based skills testing for pre-employment and training. With academic degrees in Psychology and Business, and experience with both mature and expansion-stage company growth, Eric has focused on how best to hire and motivate team members to be the best they can be for their companies.

5 COMMENTS Join the discussion
  • Phil Morrison March, 11, 2014

    I think that vacation guilt became one of the basic elements of our business culture. If we want to make our employees stop fearing to take some time off we must show it on our example and change our own perception of it. HR professionals aren’t any different from other employees in this matter. So aren’t managers. We have to try and eliminate this drawback of our business culture by combined efforts, and try to persuade ourselves take a vacation without any remorse of conscience.

  • Shaya Baker March, 13, 2014

    Nowadays most employees find it difficult to truly unplug during vacation time, especially those whose job involves social media – even when you go online to check on your personal Facebook account after that you 100% go to your company page or check your email just out of habit. Having done this, there’s no way you can avoid replying to some emails without a pang of guilt. Next my words may be an overstatement, but I think it’s the drawback of globalization.

  • Vimbai Sango March, 21, 2014

    This is a great article thank you for it. I have severe vacation guilt, my job is so demanding and hectic that asking for time off from work is just too much to ask it actually seems like you do not have the organizations success at heart. I work literally around the clock to achieve and accomplish tasks and goals, my life is my work. I consider myself lucky to have the job especially being a single mother and living in an unstable Zimbabwean economy characterized by over 80% unemployment.

    I realize however that I owe it to my self and my children to unwind with a good uninterrupted vacation.

  • Mariam ElGhandour March, 23, 2014

    I think it all comes down to company culture, policies, and appropriate levels of staffing. you may have no issues with your boss to apply for a vacation, but on the other hand, there is no one else who will do the job.. another factor is the length of the vacation, because we are all expatriates in the middle east, the ticket home is paid by the company and in some cases it is paid once every two years so it happens that you lose an employee for 60 days!!! that hurts.. in my previous company we encouraged shorter vacations several time a year, however we still couldn’t control that at entry level staff who got a ticket once every 2 years.. by law, accumulated leave days must be paid as part of employee’s gratuity, so not going on leave, costs the company an arm and a leg.. We have to get rid of vacation guilt and replace it by cost guilt :)

  • gary May, 07, 2014

    I think it’s poor management not to encourage staff to take vacations FOR health and productivity issues.
    Unfortunately, many business, especially smaller businesses, are running so lean now, that even if you do want to encourage vacations, staff may feel “team guilt” because they know how hard it’ll be on their teammates when they’re off, much less the mountain of work to try and catch up on when they get back. Sometimes, with growth, managers don’t realize that if you have 12 staff on your team, on average, if everybody took their 2 weeks/yr, that’s 50% of the time you’ll be short-staffed. You really have to think strategically to have adequate staff levels to allow training and vacation time without killing the staff not in training or on vacation

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