You and Your Employees Deserve a Break

March 30, 2011

27 percent of workers have not taken personal time or a sick day in the past few years according to the 2010 CareerBuilder work/life balance study. And that's in spite of over half saying their workloads have grown. You'd think people would use their personal days to relax with the extra hours they're putting in. Unfortunately, Expedia.com 2009 International Vacation Deprivation Survey also reports that 34 percent of US workers don't use their vacation days.

Many studies show a relationship between working long hours and health problems. Granted, long hours help employees complete an urgent project or resolve a problem, they need rest to relieve themselves of the pressure and stress from the long hours. "While a strong work ethic is valued, a lack of balance with your personal life can ultimately work against you in the long run," says Rosemary Haefner, Vice President of Human Resources at CareerBuilder.

Some people fear that others will see them as weak if they don't work long hours. A person who gets the job done and goes home to rest does the company a bigger favor than someone who works endlessly to keep up appearances or doesn't negotiate and delegate when overloaded. Women-owned businesses have shown great success and they value their breaks.

You don't need a study to tell you that taking a break benefits employees. Even workers admit this in the Expedia.com survey, which states that 34 percent of its respondents felt better about their jobs and worked more productively after a vacation. Over half of the respondents revealed that vacation helped them rest and reconnect with their families. "Throughout the eight years that the Vacation Deprivation survey has been conducted, the U.S. has long-held the dismaying distinction of being the country with the worst vacationing habits," says the Expedia.com report.

Yes, it's expensive to go on road trips and fly anywhere especially with higher gas prices. Vacation doesn't require leaving your hometown. How often do you explore your town? Maybe there's something you'd like to see or just enjoy the outdoors. Remember that personal time off simply means staying away from work doing something you enjoy and not working during that time. (No checking work emails allowed.)

Sometimes employees have a group mentality that compels them to work as much as they can and avoid time off. One person fears speaking up or else look bad. It's a touchy situation and a wise manager can change this by intervening.

Some companies have instituted an unlimited time off policy. While that sounds dangerous, no one has abused it as this Kansas City Star story tells about a software company with an unlimited time off that works.

It even works for a small company with 10 employees as this NPR story explains. Furthermore, Netflix has had an unlimited time off policy for years. The story backs up the effectiveness of the program, "Studies have long shown that — believe it or not — such flexibility actually makes workers more productive and engaged." It also goes on to tell the downside related to the peer pressure thing "that without a specified time to be 'off' employees might feel pressure to always be 'on.'"

Shouldn't work be about quality not quantity? A person may need a long lunch to be effective for the rest of the day. As long as they get the job done, why not?

How does your company handle vacation time?