Running Your Business

Vacation Benefits Guilt? 4 Ways to Encourage Your Workers to Take Time Off


  • More than half of all U.S. workers left unused vacation days on the calendar in 2016 due to feeling guilty about taking time off

  • This lost time amounted to over 600 million days of vacation time wasted, according to a Project: Time Off report

  • Americans take much less vacation time than other developed nations, and tend to work even when they are away from the office

Posted by February 22, 2018

Having access to vacation benefits is a perk that many employees have come to expect. Although not legally required, employers know that taking time off is beneficial to the productivity and well-being of employees.

Paid vacation is rated as the second-most important benefit, right behind health insurance. However, Project: Time Off, an advocacy organization for employee work-life balance, indicated in its State of American Vacation 2017 report that 54 percent of working adults in the U.S. had not used all their vacation benefits by the end of 2016. In fact, “662 million vacation days were left on the table, four million days more than 2015,” the source explains.

So, why are American workers leaving so many vacation days behind? Many are pointing to a phenomenon called “vacation guilt.” As CNBC reports, “The U.S. has a culture of guilt about taking enough vacation, and it’s American workers who miss out as a result.”

How Employers Can Promote Guilt-Free Vacations

Turns out, employers can play a huge role in encouraging employees to take some much-deserved time off. Here are four tips that can help you motivate your workforce to take advantage of the benefits afforded to them.

1. Provide a Detailed Description of the Vacation Policy

A contributing factor to vacation guilt has to do with how employers promote vacation benefits. Since it is not mandatory, it’s viewed as more of a privilege of employment than an entitlement.

Eliminate this problem by providing your employees with a detailed description of the company’s vacation policy, including instructions about when and how to request it. If you’re clear about these guidelines, employees may be more likely to take advantage of their vacation days.

2. Encourage Employees to Take Wellness Days

As discussed by NPR, America is the only wealthy nation that doesn’t have a vacation benefit mandate. Your workplace can be different. Encourage employees to take time off at least once a month as a “wellness day.”

By letting your employees know that their well-being is a priority for the company, they are more likely to make it a priority of their own. A proper work-life balance is beneficial for employees and employers alike, as employees tend to be more productive when they return to work after taking some time for themselves.

3. Carefully Track Vacation Time

The guilt associated with vacation time also comes from the financially driven culture that America has embraced. Not only are employees not using vacation days as often, but when they do use them, the breaks are shorter.

Along with Ipsos, travel insurance company Europ Assistance recently studied the vacation patterns of its global customers—and found the average vacation taken last year to be 1.4 weeks (down from 1.6 weeks in 2016). Carefully track vacation time taken and try talking with employees who have not used any. If they fear taking a vacation may affect their income or job-security, reassure them this isn’t the case.

4. Set a Good Example

A Glassdoor survey reveals that even when Americans take a vacation, they tend to perform work duties at least part of the time. This can be mostly blamed on our increasingly connected world, thanks to the internet and mobile devices. To show employees that this isn’t necessary or encouraged, management can set a good example by taking time off themselves and not engaging in unnecessary business matters while on vacation.

It’s vital that employers both educate and promote vacation benefits to remove the guilt factor. By following the above guidelines, it’s possible to help employees experience greater work-life balance by using their earned vacation time.

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