Phil is checking his work email on his Blackberry while on the beach in Cancun. He’s actively ignoring everything going on around him, afraid to see his spouse glaring at him for the umpteenth time in seven days. He’s spent most of their vacation checking work stuff instead of spending time with his family. The vacation is almost over, even though he could have taken many more accumulated paid days off. Now he’s trying to decide which is worse: his awful sunburn from forgetting to put on any lotion, or the thought of going back to work still feeling totally burnt out.
Does this situation remind you of one of your staff at the office (or yourself)? Do your employees take all the vacation time owing to them? When they do take time off, are they returning to work looking just as burnt-out as the day they left, handing to the company an immense mobile computing device phone bill receipt they want expensed?
These problems and more can indicate challenges with your company’s vacation policies. This is where some HR guidance can help.
Poor vacation procedures can lead to the following problems:
- Higher costs
Employees who don’t take vacation may, in certain circumstances, get paid out at the end of the year, taking away from the company’s bottom line. Some employees will even do work on their scheduled vacation, then claim they are owed more vacation because of the work they did on their own time. These employees may also decide to submit receipts for expenses they incurred while working when they should have been using their vacation time to actually … take a vacation.
- Productivity takes a hit
If your employees spend a significant amount of vacation time doing company work, they’re not actually taking a vacation. When they come back to the office, they will be at the same lower level of enthusiasm and productivity they were at when they left.
- Potential long-term burnout
Spouses typically begin arguing within two days of the start of any vacation, often because one or both refuse to stop checking in on work. Long-term, a refusal to use vacation time as a genuine break can cause tension to creep into other areas of an employee’s life, creating a cycle of tension and exhaustion at work and at home that will break even the most disciplined person.
When companies develop vacation policies and procedures that work, the benefits are easy to see:
- Lower costs
Employees don’t bank an ever-increasing number of vacation days, which get paid out at the end of the year, increasing the burden on businesses that now have to deal with unforeseen costs.
- Energized and motivated employees
Remember how you were on your first day at work? Full of energy, ready to impress, determined to overcome a steep learning curve with sheer determination, and with a capacity to hit the ground running. Coming back from a vacation, employees should be full of beans and excited about their work – and they’ll be even more effective than before they left.
- Workforce stability
Better vacation procedures will lead to improved employee retention, leading to overall stability in the organization.
What kinds of rules and processes around vacations can help your company? Here are a few:
- Get creative about scheduling vacations
Some companies have set closure times during the summer or around the winter holidays. This helps ensure that all employees take vacation owed to them. Also, they ensure employees understand that they will not be compensated for unauthorized work done during “time off”, so the company does not have to deal with unscheduled costs.
- Set firm rules around carrying over vacation days
We don’t recommend carrying over vacation days year after year. Employees should be required to take their vacation allotment every year so that they can get required rest and relaxation. Also, carrying over vacation is an extra cost to the company, since vacation days may actually be worth more the following year if employees receive a pay increase.
- Consider going beyond minimum requirements for vacation entitlements
In some companies, it may make good sense to offer more than the minimum statutory requirements for vacation time. It could act as an attraction tool, helping to position your company as a desirable place to work. During periods where there is stiff competition for talent, increased vacation entitlements could set you apart from your competitors. Also, ensuring that you have a scale of increasing vacation days allows you to reward employee longevity.
Keep on top of your vacation policies, and ensure that employees only get sun burnt, and not burnt out.
Copyright 2009 Clear HR Consulting Inc. All rights reserved.