Workplace Trends

Workforce Trends

Why Employees Aren’t Using Their Vacation Time and the Role Managers Play

By James Greenway on December 13, 2013

As 2013 draws to a close, many American workers are scrambling to use vacation time that expires at year’s end.  Others will be leaving vacation days on the table.  If paid time off—a key tool in recruitment, engagement and retention of employees—is considered a critical corporate benefit, why aren’t more employees taking full advantage of the days they’ve earned?   And at what cost to the organization?

Expedia’s recently released 2013 Vacation Deprivation Study reveals that Americans left an average of four vacation days untaken in the last reporting period, twice as many as in the previous year.  Therefore, as the study notes, Americans are only using 10 of the 14 days provided—sacrificing a cumulative 577,212,000 vacation days a year.  Research has consistently validated the benefits of taking time off from work: giving employees the opportunity to recharge their batteries, gain perspective, enhance work/life balance, ease stress, and reduce burnout.  Leaders must ask themselves why their team members aren’t taking vacation—and if management is playing a role in their reluctance to take time off.

Here are four reasons why many employees don’t use their vacation time:

  • I’m worried about losing my job.  Managers who never use their own vacation time, or grumble and complain to the team when an employee does, are conveying a potentially destructive message.  Does your message about vacation time contribute to a perception that taking time off will damage an employee’s career opportunities or put his or her job in jeopardy?
  • I’ll be swamped when I return.  Organizations are doing more with less, so employees may find that taking time off—without having backup—simply makes the job more difficult upon their return.  While it’s not always possible to have complete coverage when someone is on vacation, are you helping to identify more routine tasks that can be shared with team members or temporary staff?
  • I’m too busy.  Projects must be completed, timelines must be followed and deadlines must be met; therefore, some employees feel that they can’t miss even a few days of work.  It’s incumbent upon managers to create realistic expectations and build in flexibility to accommodate an employee’s time away from work.
  • I’d still have to stay “plugged in.”  An LHH online survey conducted earlier this year revealed that only nine percent of workers unplug completely on vacation whereas one-third of the respondents said they take all of their electronic devices with them.  Employees who are expected to work through their time off can’t fully relax and reap the benefits of vacation time, so many just don’t see the point.  It’s important that managers and employees engage in frank conversations about how to create an appropriate balance, set reasonable expectations and achieve goals.

If leaders want higher employee engagement, they should encourage their workforce to use their paid time off.  As John Morrey, Expedia’s Vice President and General Manager, cautions, “There are countless reasons that vacation days go unused—failure to plan, worry, forgetfulness, you name it.  But rested employees are more productive employees, so taking regular vacations may well help the company more than failing to do so.”

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