Are We Taking Our Time?
Imagine asking your boss if you can take a few days off and being told, “Sure, take as much time as you need.” (And also imagine that this answer is neither sarcastic, nor a joke, nor an indication that you are fired.) This week, npr.org featured an article entitled, “Unlimited Vacation Time Not a Dream for Some,” which profiles a small Seattle social media company called Social Strata that has made this seemingly too-good-to-be-true idea, a reality. They’re not the only ones: Netflix has had a similar policy in place for 10 years, while one percent of U.S. businesses recently surveyed by WorldatWork echoed the same practice.
Of course, many industries cannot allow unlimited time off for business and operational reasons. Any type of customer service or hospitality, healthcare, or production job, for example, is shift-driven, and coverage cannot lapse on any given day. However, for “thought workers” who operate on deadlines, who can often work remotely, and who are required to be self-motivated just by the nature of their jobs—why not?
There are actually several reasons. And they’re not what you think—namely that the office will be empty and work will fall by the wayside as employees take advantage of the lenient policy. It’s actually quite the opposite: many employees already do not take all of their vacation time, even under the traditional “use it or lose it” policy system. Here are some interesting facts:
• More than half of workers simply don’t use all of their vacation time, according to a report from Hudson, a worldwide recruitment service. The study, which is based on a national poll of 2,082 U.S. workers, showed that 56% do not use all of their allotted paid time off. The report shows that a full 30% said they take less than half of their days off.
• 70% of employees work beyond scheduled time and on weekends; more than half cited “self-imposed pressure” as the reason.
Society for Human Resource Management, Spring 2009
• It was estimated that approximately 436 million vacation days would be forfeited in 2009
• Workers in the United States take an average of 13 paid days off each year, compared with 42 paid days off in Italy, 37 paid days in France, 35 paid days in Germany, and 34 paid days in Brazil.
World Tourism Association
So what’s the big deal? Doesn’t this just show what hard workers Americans are, and how focused we are on getting ahead? Some more interesting facts to consider:
• Men who take vacations every year lowered the risk of heart disease by 20%. Those who did not have a vacation for the 5 years of the study had the highest mortality and incidence of heart disease.
Houston Woman Magazine, 8/2009, re: State University of New York research
• Women who vacationed more than once a year had less depression and tension as well as greater marital satisfaction than other groups in the study, including those who vacationed once a year. The most distressed, about 20%, had only taken a vacation once every 6 years.
Houston Woman Magazine, 8/2009, re: Wisconsin’s Marshfield Clinic study, funded by National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health
• Employees who work 10-12 hours per day are significantly less productive and efficient than employees who work 6-6.5 hours a day, according to a long term study done by the Organizational Psychology Program at Rutgers Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology.
So while Social Strata and other companies might mean well in extending an unlimited vacation policy to their employees, perhaps the best idea would be to make sure that your employees are actually taking their allotted vacation time. Dare I say, make it mandatory? I think we all know by now that employees who are refreshed, happy, and fulfilled in their personal lives are more productive in the workplace, so you might be doing your business a favor by telling your employees to give it a rest.
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