What Should HR Do When Employees Don't Use Their Vacation Time?

Caitlin Wiles
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Everyone needs a vacation every now and then. Paid time off allows employees to rest, relax, and come back fresh and ready to work. It makes sense that having paid time off for employees could help with recruitment and retention—who doesn't love a good vacation? But while vacation time is an attractive benefit, it's not always taken advantage of.

More and more employees are leaving vacation time unused. According to a WorldatWork study, 37% of employees don't use all of their vacation time by the end of the year. Unused vacation time can lead to burnt-out employees and lower productivity levels, making it dangerous to any company. Because of this, HR may try to find a solution, which requires them to know the cause.

There are many different reasons for employees not maximizing their paid time off. On personal levels, employees may simply struggle to unplug from the office and feel stressed while they are away. Many employees feel like they might fall too behind or, worse, appear less dedicated. But not taking their vacation time can be just as damaging. According to an O.C. Tanner study, only one week away from work can enhance engagement, loyalty, and a sense of belonging in the workplace.

There are a few different ways that HR can address the unused vacation time problem.

  • Have a mandatory vacation policy, making every employee take a certain amount of paid time off a year. This should apply at all levels of the company-a manager refusing to take time off just reinforces ideas that taking time for yourself can limit your success in the workplace.
  • Have an ample vacation policy. By making it clear that you prioritize your employees getting the time off that they need by offering them a substantial amount of time off. While some companies have tried unlimited paid time off, it can sometimes backfire. However, it could still be useful for your specific company.
  • Monitor the office environment to ensure it is free of productivity-pushing or vacation judgment. This can come from employees toward each other or even from managers. In worse case scenarios, a pressuring workplace can undermine company values.
  • Take an individualistic approach. Have managers talk with employees one-on-one about what is keeping them from using their vacation time. This can be a great way to ease some PTO-related fears and ensure your employees are being treated with respect.
  • Fund some of their vacation time! This can be as simple as giving them a hotel gift card, but perhaps try finding some way to take the financial stress off of your employees.

No matter how HR manages it, encouraging vacation time is crucial for the employees' wellbeing and productivity. Well-rested employees are like a blank slate—they can enjoy their work and their coworkers more, which can foster a drive to succeed. The most important thing HR can do is figure out why people aren't maximizing their vacation time, which requires getting input from managers and employees. From there, HR can take steps to address the problem and encourage vacation time.



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