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
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
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
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.