The U.S. Travel Association has been tracking vacation time utilization for nearly a decade. In 2018, American workers earned more vacation days than in years past and there was also a slight increase in the number of vacation days taken. But that’s not to say that American workers are particularly good about taking time off from work. The latest edition of Project: Time Off found that 52 percent of Americans are still not using all the vacation time they earn—to the tune of 705 million unused days last year.

Do your employees take full advantage of the benefit of PTO? If not, here are some possible reasons why:

They’re committing fraud

We’ll start with the most outlandish reason for not taking vacation, which is that they’re cooking the books and can’t risk being found out. If it sounds like something out of a movie, think again: embezzlement is more common than you might think. Employee theft cost U.S. businesses $50 billion in 2017. And it’s more likely to happen in small and mid-size companies. A recent study by business insurer Hiscox found that small and mid-size businesses accounted for 68 percent of embezzlement cases in 2017, resulting in a median loss of $289,964.

Your company culture doesn’t encourage time off

Work hard, play hard” is an often-touted corporate motto, but without the right culture in place, it can look a lot more like “Work hard. Period.” To create a culture that encourages time off, owners and managers need to set a good example. If they act like workaholics, their teams will assume that behavior is expected of them too. In addition, talk about the benefits of time off, both to the employee’s wellness and to the company’s bottom line. Invite employees to share about their vacations upon their return. A clear vacation policy also can help make employees more comfortable with the idea of taking off.

Employees are worried they’ll return to a pile of work

Do you have a system in place where key employees can even go on vacation? If work comes to a screeching halt once that out of office message goes live, it can be hard to justify unplugging for an extended period of time.

Make sure someone can cover for them and ensure employees are cross-trained so they can easily pick up where a vacationing employee left off. Lane Fenner, XMI’s SVP of Operations, offers a few other tips for encouraging employees to take vacation.

They’re saving it for a rainy day

If your company allows employees to roll over unused vacation days, be prepared for some of your employees to stockpile them. Their reasons are varied, from wanting to take a major trip to worrying about being able to take care of a sick child or aging parent.

To combat vacation day hoarding, regularly tout the benefits of a well-rested employee. You could also consider creating a use-it-or-lose-it policy (not legal in all states, so watch out), which is a proven way to encourage employees to take more vacation time.

A more radical idea is requiring employees to take mandatory vacation. This Harvard Business Review article explains what happened after a 10-person company required employees to take one week off every couple of months. Spoiler alert: They saw substantial gains in creativity, productivity and happiness. In other words, when employees recharge, everyone wins.


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