Over the past decade, flexible work hours and the ability to work remotely have revolutionized the workplace and in many cases significantly increased companies' employee satisfaction and employee retention rates. What has not changed so much is the US attitude towards employee vacation time.
Here in the US, as you are no doubt aware, there is no minimum annual vacation requirement -unlike the UK where employers must provide a minimum of 28 days paid annual leave– and even when vacation time is offered many employees do not take advantage of the chance to take time off.
Things are changing in some quarters. Both Virgin Media and Netflix employees can take time off whenever they like, and of much of it as they like. Those experts who have praised such policies claim they increase employee productivity and advance employee wellness by calming the 'workaholic' mentality that there is no doubt can damage both physical and mental health.
But how is that workable? Netflix and Virgin both have thousands of employees. A company with far fewer is likely to suffer, surely? Should every company adopt such a policy or is this just a fad?
Does Employee Vacation Time Prevent Burnout?
It’s no secret that those of us who get more (or at least better) sleep are more productive, and those of us who don’t get enough end up burning ourselves out. The same goes for those employees who don’t take time off of work to recharge and replenish.
However, many employees are still choosing not to take time off. The reasons relate to increasingly heavy workloads, tighter deadlines, and a perceived threat to their job security. threatened job security.
These factors and others pile on the pressure and those who want to impress their employers often boast about their lack of vacation time, imagining it makes them better employees than those who take advantage if the offer of time off.
While Virgin Media’s and Netflix’s new non-policies for vacation time looks like a good deal on paper, they have been criticised for creating a culture of guilt that keeps employees in the workplace instead of encouraging time off.
The Virgin policy, for example states that employees can only take time off “when they feel a 100 percent comfortable that they and their team are up to date on every project, and that their absence will not damage the business.” Given that few teams in any company can ever feel assured of that it is questionable how many employees take advantage of that offer of vacation at all.
How Much Vacation Time Is Right?
Regardless of whether companies use incentive-based vacation time, or unlimited days off, the question of how much employee vacation time improves productivity at work remains difficult to answer.
A study conducted by Ernst & Young found that the more vacation time, the stronger employee performance. To put a figure on it, for every 10 hours of vacation employees took, there was an 8 percent boost in their performance review scores. Employee retention was also up to 200% higher at companies run by managers who encouraged, rather than discouraged, employees from taking time off.
Another large-scale study reported similar results. A 2011 study conducted by Expedia found that of those surveyed, 45 percent agreed that "they come back to work feeling rested, rejuvenated, and reconnected to their personal life" after vacation, and 35 percent said "they return from vacation feeling better about their job and feeling more productive."
As with all things balance is key. Employees need time off to make sure they’re happier, healthier, and more productive, but it concerns many employees that judgmental employers might think them as less productive and disloyal if they go on vacation.
If companies truly want the best from their employees, they should be practically pushing them out of the door at least occasionally to give themselves time to recharge. They should also lead by example and take time off themselves, as their company will benefit from their better health and wellbeing as well.