Summer Vacation: Fun or Dread – 6 things bosses can do

Americans have lost nearly a week of vacation from 2000 to 2015. According to a study, conducted by the Travel Industry who partnered with Harvard Business Review, employees took an average of 20.3 days in 2000, but that was down to 16.2 in 2015. 55% of Americans are not taking all their vacation leaving 658 million days unused. 222 million of those days are totally lost leaving an estimation of over $62 billion in lost employee benefits.

Since that 2015 low point, the latest 2018 study shows a slightly increasing trend to 17.2 vacation days taken by employees in 2017. However, the figures still reflect that over half of Americans (52%) are not taking all their vacation.

Statistically, taking time off is credited with decreasing stress, increasing production, and creating a happier workplace where people get along. So why aren’t employees taking all their vacation?

Nearly six in ten employees say the lack of support from their bosses prevents them from taking time off. It’s not that bosses tell them not to take a vacation, but it is the silence about a vacation that breeds uncertainty. Many employees question whether they should take time off and if it will be held against them later when they return. When bosses do not actively encourage vacation, employees are left to guess what the silence means.

Surprisingly, millennials lead the way in taking less vacation, according to Travel Industry 2016 study. They argue that the “entitled narrative” attributed to millennials is dead wrong when it comes to vacation.

Reasons Time Off is Left On The Table

Millennials vs. Boomers

  • Don’t want to lose consideration for raise or promotion. 26% 9%
  • Don’t want others to think I am replaceable. 27% 11%
  • Want to show complete dedication to the company and my job. 30% 15%
  • Feel guilty using my paid time off. 27% 12%
  • Afraid of what my boss might think. 23% 10%

Whether millennials are taking all their vacation or not, Travelport predicts they will more likely take a vacation and spend more than older generations in 2018.

Take a vacation

The main point is to take a vacation, and there are several reasons bosses should encourage time off. When employees start to feel overloaded with work, it can increase stress and negatively affect their behavior in the workplace. Christine Porath, who has studied civility in the workplace since 1998 found a growing concern with workplace behavior in general. 70% of people she surveyed on workplace civility in 2016 believed incivility had reached crisis proportions. 60% of employees who acknowledge their bad behavior in the workplace blame it on being overloaded with work, –and more than 40% said they had “no time to be nice.”

High-stress levels attribute to many things that can go wrong in the workplace, from tempers flaring, safety errors increasing workplace accidents, poor production, and loss of quality team members.

If taking time off can reduce stress and increase happiness at work and home, then remove the stress out of taking time off.

Bosses to the rescue.

There are several things bosses can do to encourage time off.

  • Encourage employees to take time off and start the vacation discussion. Chime in with enthusiasm when they share their vacation plans. Emphasize the benefit time-off brings to the organization when employees make time to refresh and renew.
  • Demonstrate how you value taking a vacation by taking your time off as well. Keep in mind, if employees see the boss taking time off that could be a signal for them to follow.
  • As an employee benefit, consider partnering with vacation planning services (i.e., or ) who can help employees to have a wonderful vacation without the stress of planning the details. People who plan vacations are 51% more likely to take all their vacation and 69% more likely to take a full week compared to non-planners who are 39% and 46% respectively.
  • Plan ahead to have a co-worker prepared to take on the responsibilities left behind from the vacationing employee. Taking these steps could relieve the dread of vacationers returning to piles of work waiting for them.
  • Consider bringing in temporary help whether from an employment agency or retired employees to pick up the work during time-off or vacation season. Many retiring employees would welcome the opportunity to come back on a temporary basis to help. Make the offer a standard practice.
  • Be mindful to show genuine appreciation to co-workers left behind to take on the additional work left by the vacationing employee. Offer incentives, if possible, for taking on the extra work. It doesn’t have to be monetary. Remember, work overload is a top reason from people who acknowledge their uncivil behavior. “Who has time to be nice.” Facing an unhappy co-worker could fade the joy of the returning employee from vacation.

Vacation, here I come. “I’m not feeling nice right now, but certainly, all of that will change when I return, refreshed, and renewed with a happy spirit to boot.” Let’s have some fun. It’s good for everyone and an incentive for any boss to say, “Get out of here.”

This blog post is an excerpt taken from a pending book by Sharon Harrington. She assists organizations in navigating conflict by helping to build skills that embrace prevention measures and create empowering environments that support self-mediation. She is a learning professional who has spent over 25 years tackling tough issues surrounding charges of unfair treatment in the workplace that reach the attention EEOC.