take some time off written in sand

The Importance of Vacation Time for Employees

By Nicole Martin


Summer and vacation, the two are almost synonymous. But many workers opt to not take their allotted time off. And of those that do, a substantial number feel like they can’t completely unplug from work and truly unwind. In my experience, I can tell you that neither of these scenarios are good for employers or employees. In fact, skipping vacation and/or failing to disconnect from the office can be doing more harm than good to both the employee and the company. 

Employees Need a Break

Working long hours without taking the necessary time off to rest and rejuvenate can negatively impact employee health, both physically and mentally. Studies show the toll such work practices have on one’s physical health. The Framingham Heart Study found that men who didn’t take a vacation for several years were 30 percent more likely to have a heart attack compared to men who took time off, and that women who took a vacation fewer than every six years were almost eight times more likely to develop coronary heart disease or have a heart attack as those who took a vacation at least twice a year. Skipping even one year of vacation time could pose risks. A study by the State University of New York at Oswego found that vacationing each year reduced the overall risk of death by around 20% and the risk of heart disease by 30%.

Failure to take an adequate break can also result in burnout, which has a multitude of physical and mental consequences such as insomnia, anxiety, headaches, stomachaches, muscle aches, nausea, high blood pressure, and depression. 

On the flip side, ample research demonstrates the positive impact of vacation time – whether the employee goes away or not – on one’s health, such as lower stress levels and decreased depression.

But it’s important to take a true break from the office during your time off, and in today’s hybrid work world, employees are finding this increasingly more difficult to do. A recent poll from Fishbowl by Glassdoor found that most professionals have a hard time unplugging from work during their vacation time, with 54 percent of professionals saying that they are unable or do not believe they can fully unplug while on PTO.

Employers Benefit from Rested Employees

While the reasons for employees to take vacation time are obvious, employers also benefit from their workers taking paid time off. The Society for Human Resource Management’s Vacation’s Impact on the Workplace Survey revealed that employees who take all or most of their vacation time are more likely to experience higher levels of job satisfaction, be more productive, and perform better than those who do not. This is underscored by internal research from EY, which found that employees who use more vacation days end up with better performance reviews. 

Time away from work can help reduce the burnout, stress, and physical ailments that impact an employee’s ability to do their job, while simultaneously decreasing dissatisfaction and disengagement. This respite can even provide a fresh perspective and get creative juices flowing.

So, Why Aren’t Employees Taking Advantage of PTO?

Everyone’s situation is different, but across the board, employees tend to skip vacation time for the following reasons:

Desire to Get Ahead at Work. By not taking PTO, they think they are demonstrating their commitment and dedication to the company, believing it will enhance career development.

Pride. These employees may see opting out of vacation time as something to brag about, like a badge of honor.

Guilt. Many employees simply don’t take the time because they don’t want to let their employer or teams down. They feel no one can do their job while they are out or that their team members will be left to pick up the slack.

Pressure to Meet Deadlines. This is particularly true in the current climate where teams are short staffed and feel like they cannot get their projects completed in a timely manner.

How You Can Encourage Employees to Take Real Time Off

  • Create policies that encourage and provide for a better work-life balance and the use of vacation time. Build these values into your culture.
  • Offer voluntary benefits packages with vacation options so that the cost can be deducted from paychecks over time and/or offer vacation stipends.
  • If possible, shut offices down for a specified period of time when there is a lag to force employees to take vacation time, such as during the summer or between Christmas and New Year.
  • Implement a zero contact policy to prevent vacation from becoming a remote work environment by not allowing communication when the employee is away or after hours.

Encouraging employees to take time away to recharge will lead to a more creative, innovative and motivated workforce. This in turn will improve retention rates, save money and drive growth.

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