It’s good for your health and for your company’s productivity.
People always ask themselves where did my summer go? It’s little wonder. In 2018, U.S. workers let a record 768 million vacation days go unclaimed, a 9% uptick from the previous year. According to a U.S. Travel Association study, conducted by Oxford Economics and Ipsos, workers completely forfeited 236 of those days, amounting to $65.5 million in lost benefits.
Why do Americans do that?
As The Economist noted in a recent story that later trended on LinkedIn, U.S. workers tend to view vacations as short-term respites. Unlike their European counterparts, who typically take off a full month as the summer wanes, leaving work and its stressors behind, American workers tend to use their vacation days, if they take them at all, only for extended weekends.
Such short-term thinking is counterproductive when trying to recharge your batteries. As The Economist noted, “An extended weekend break...risks adding to the stress, as a high proportion of the vacation period is spent travelling to and from the desired destination.”
There are many culprits that keep American workers in their cubicles, from the high-cost of travel to friends- and family-related obligations. But there’s one area where companies may be contributing to the problem—the way they structure personal time off (PTO) policies.
In some companies, employees have to wait to accrue their vacation time and that can cause unforeseen problems. Vasavi Thota, senior Manager of HR applications at ServiceNow, says that in her previous IT roles at other companies, she’s seen workers bide their time to collect ample vacation days, only to later have their vacation plans derailed by personal reasons or by a particularly heavy workload that makes vacationing feel daunting.
“They want to make use of their vacation days,” says Thota. But then they don’t.
The recent switch by many companies to unlimited PTO is meant to let employees request or take vacation at their discretion, with few (if any) restrictions. Although it’s a new trend, the flexibility of this policy has already proven effective in attracting top talent. A 2017 survey by Deloitte found that Millennials stay longer at companies with unlimited PTO. The policy also boosts productivity and has been shown to alleviate workplace stress, the effects of which have been compared to that of second-hand smoke inhalation.
But even with the unlimited option, employees themselves can sabotage their own best interests. Even when they do take time off, they’re often faced with anxiety (or FOMO) about the work they’ve left behind and the mountain of unanswered emails that await their return.
To help lighten that load, ServiceNow created the Delegation feature. It allows a worker taking time off to delegate her responsibilities to others while she’s out. “[I can] identify the start and end date of my vacation, and, in my absence, assign the person who will receive my project notifications and approvals,” Thota says “That way the work itself is not interrupted.” And employees can fully enjoy their time off without worrying about work.
Certain workers, however, just don’t have the luxury of completely disconnecting from the office workflow. A major project or an area of expertise or authority they alone possess requires them to stay connected. For those cases and those people, ServiceNow recommends Now Mobile, an app that works in conjunction with the Delegation feature. It allows you to glance at upcoming and completed tasks, and to answer a quick question or two (and we do mean quick. You’re supposed to be on vacation, after all).
“Now Mobile app is available for employees to use from anywhere and anytime they choose,” Thota said. Importantly, she emphasized that ServiceNow does not encourage working during vacation.
“In fact employees can turn off the notifications on their mobile while they are on vacation and not be bothered with work notifications, which we definitely discourage during personal time.”
Of course, apps and behaviors are just part of a solution. A company must foster a culture that values time off and that provides tools to make that transition as smooth as possible.
“Our leaders set an example,” says Thota. “Be it our CIO or our senior director, they do take time off and they do encourage us to take time off,” Thota said. “And the encouragement from the leadership is really great because it constantly remind us of our accomplishments and contributions.”
Everyone has to leave room for concentrating on what truly matters: friends, family, and those tiny paper umbrellas the beachside bartender puts into your frozen margarita. After all, life is short—and so is summer.