When your employees take time off, do they end up spending some of that time checking work emails, taking phone calls or working on projects?
Statistically, the answer is likely yes. A majority of workers sneakily slip work into their day when they’re supposed to be off. That’s compounded by the fact that more than half of Americans don’t take their full allotment of employee vacation time — workers left a whopping 768 million vacation days unused in 2018.
Shifting the culture from distracted days off to totally a work-free vacation is good for employees, not to mention the business as a whole. Here’s what a little time without office stress can do for your workforce.
1. Banish Burnout
The No. 1 motivation for Americans to travel is to avoid burnout. That arrangement is a win-win for employers and employees. Approximately two-thirds of the workforce experiences burnout at least sometimes, and 23% very often or always feel burned out at work.
When employees are close to reaching their burnout point, the stress can manifest in the form of both physical and mental effects. That can take a personal toll, especially when employees also have to contend with the business consequences of performance flaws, slower output and more work site accidents. Vacations provide relief, but not if inbox notifications and deadlines are always in mind.
Encouraging employees to take a break — and not to check in on work — can help them relax and return fresh.
2. Boost Creativity
Vacations involve visiting new places, bonding with loved ones, and resting — all of which can help ignite creativity. Just being away from the day-to-day routine activates the brain, forming new neural pathways and fostering ingenuity.
Many people have the experience of thinking of a new idea in the shower, while exercising or in other environments outside the workplace. Scientists have attributed this to the combination of dopamine being released, a relaxed state of mind and a focus on something other than the problem you’re trying to solve. Vacations offer extended time for those ideas to surface. Down the line, that fresh perspective could lead to innovative solutions and products for the business.
3. Improve Mental and Physical Health
Research has found that longer vacations improve health and well-being. It’s not enough to set your computer’s wallpaper as a tropical beach for a week, however. Factors like how enjoyable the vacation is, how relaxing it is and whether or not the vacationer has a sense of control all come into play.
Many studies indicate variations on this theme. Most of them show that the main impact of an employee vacation is on mental health. However, those results — such as reducing stress — often start a chain reaction of physical effects as well. Employees who take active vacations reap even more health benefits. Activities like walking more and exploring new places challenge the muscles and brain. A bit of exercise is also a surefire way to invite a kick of dopamine for a bonus happiness boost.
These improvements in physical and mental health can lead to lower unexpected absences and even lower overall health care costs.
4. Increase Team Skills
When an employee is out on vacation, especially for a week or more, others may need to step in to handle some of their tasks. This provides an opportunity for cross-team training and skill sharing. The next time there’s an unexpected absence, the staff will already have a plan in place to keep the business running smoothly.
This kind of collaboration also builds trust among coworkers — they have each other’s backs. When one or more employees cover for someone who is out on vacation, those workers also gain new insights into that person’s duties. They may see different ways to complete tasks or opportunities for greater efficiency, and they’ll get a chance to work with different coworkers and vendor partners. As they build more relationships, the team has a chance to become more tight-knit, boosting productivity and morale.
How to Encourage Work-Free Vacations
You can tell employees to leave their work phone at home while they’re vacationing, but some might still feel the need to reply to an email or two anyway.
Some fear that they’ll face a mountain of work when they return. Company culture and assumed expectations that employees are “always available and responsive” also influence vacation behavior. When leaders constantly check in while they are supposed to be out, they signal to others that they’re expected to do the same if they want to be successful.
Of course, omnipresent phones, Wi-Fi and social media have influenced these habits. When employees have one phone for both personal and work purposes, it can be difficult to “turn off” the work functions. Social media connections often include work friends, so simply scrolling through the social feed can tug an employee into work mode.
Want employees to take their time off seriously? Encourage real breaks by:
- Proactively discussing vacation planning and the benefits of taking time off.
- Setting an example by not checking in while you’re out, or limiting your contact to just a few people instead of the whole team.
- Formalizing cross-training before the employee leaves for vacation, including planning and hand-offs, so that everyone understands their responsibilities without having to contact the vacationer.
- Allowing for “reentry time” on the day an employee returns to work. This lets them read emails and get back up to speed early on.
- Expressing appreciation for the contributions that all employees make to the team, and reassuring them that they’re valued.
- Restricting employees’ access to work technology while they are on vacation, or at least encouraging them to leave work phones and laptops at home.
When employees return to work rested and refreshed, they’ll be better prepared to pick up where they left off and then some.
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