An estimated 658 Million Days of Paid Time Off will go unused. The benefits to both employees and businesses for time off are well-documented. So why do so many employees leave so much behind? There are many reasons, and the root cause of most of the reasons are a failure of leadership. Here are the big three:
Poor planning. A quality leader needs to be good at planning - and this includes making sure that your employees have the opportunity to take time off. Paid time off is an earned benefit and important to employees. Vacation blackouts peak seasons, work coverage needs, or customer needs will all push back on the availability for people to take time off. A good leader will plan for this and work out a schedule for both employees to get time off and the work to get done.
No or poor cross-training. Every company has people that are mission-critical. If the office/plant/company will implode because one person takes a vacation day, that is an organizational failure. Sometimes those employees embrace their "indispensability" as job security, and march on as “work martyrs.” They too, need time to free their brains from work to recharge. Managers need to ensure essential functions are covered by a competent back up so the employee can be “off the grid”- not merely working from their vacation location. It's unhealthy and a big HR grey area.
An unhealthy corporate culture - or at least mixed messages from management. Many employees cite work/life balance as an important factor in job satisfaction (or a cause of voluntary turnover). Employees cite fear as a reason they do not take time off - they think it will make them less likely to be promoted, more likely to be laid off, or feel guilty for "creating more work for others." Many managers either encourage "work martyrs" or are oblivious to their employees’ concerns. Managers often set a bad example on their own vacations – calling into conference calls from the beach or checking emails constantly sends a message to employees that that is the expectation.
As the labor market continues to tighten, the competition for talent is fierce. The majority of Gen-Xers and Millennials express time off and work/life balance as a very important employment benefit. Companies that embrace time out of the office and encourage them to take the time they have earned will win in the long run by recruiting and retaining the best talent, and having them perform at their best.