August 12, 2021

Everyone Benefits when Leaders Encourage Employees to Take Vacations

Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD
Everyone Benefits when Leaders Encourage Employees to Take Vacations
  • Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD

    Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD

    Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo is a Licensed Practicing Psychologist with a Ph.D. in Psychology and a Master's degree in Physical Therapy, and the authority on how to crush your inner critic so that you can live a life of purpose, fulfillment and True Success™. She’s America’s most trusted celebrity psychologist with over 100 national media interviews. She writes for Combined Insurance in an effort to help educate readers, but her medical opinions and advice are for entertainment purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for visiting your doctor.

While many people were pining for a vacation last year when the country was in various states of shut down, this summer, with restrictions lifting, has offered more options. And yet, with summer winding down, many employees may have chosen not to take a vacation. Why, as an employer, is this something to be concerned about? And what can you do to help facilitate your team members taking time off?

Interestingly, even before the pandemic, most Americans did not take all of their vacation days. In fact, only 28% of employees1 in 2019 took all of their available paid time off (PTO).  And last summer, almost half of employees2 canceled their vacation plans.

While this, ostensibly might seem like a positive win for employers to have their team members at work, the research demonstrates otherwise. In fact, it turns out that employees taking a vacation is advantageous to the individual and organization.

So, what are some of the benefits when your employees take a vacation? It turns out, there are many and include:

  • Greater well-being: According to a Gallup study, employees who "always make time for regular trips" had a 68.4 score on the Gallup-Heathway's Well-Being Index3, as opposed to those who were not as diligent about taking a vacation, who averaged a 51.4 on the Well-Being score
  • Improved mental well-being: Employees who take vacation days report less stress4, anxiety and depressive symptoms. What’s more, 68% report more positive moods5 when they return to work.
  • Better physical health: The field of psychoneuroimmunology consistently demonstrates that high levels of stress over prolonged periods of time can adversely impact every organ system in the body. Fortunately, less stress can boost health, and vacation can be an important part of that. For example, The  Framingham Heart Study6 found people who regularly take vacations can reduce their risk for heart disease. In fact, men who take their vacations are 32% less likely to die from a heart attack, while women are 50% less likely.
  • Better sleep: By not incessantly checking email and other communications with work peers and customers, your team members can get more and better-quality sleep during vacation. In fact, research demonstrates that those who take vacations and travel regularly reported an almost 20% improvement in their sleep7.
  • Greater work morale: 70% of workerss reported feeling more satisfied with their jobs when they took regular vacations. 
  • Greater productivity8: Over half (58 percent) of employees say they are more productive5 following a vacation, and 55% describe the quality of their work as being better. In an internal study, Ernst & Young9 found that for each additional 10 hours of vacation time employees took, their year-end performance ratings improved 8 percent.
  • Stronger employee retention: When employees take time off, they have less burnout10 and are less likely to leave their jobs.
  • Improved markets: if employees used all of their PTO, research suggests there would be an additional$160 billion spent in the economy11 with an additional $21 billion in tax revenues. And the beauty is, even just one day can make a difference: if each employee took just one more day of PTO, there would be an additional $73 billion circulating in the US economy.
  • More jobs: Given the above data, this would support an additional 1.2 million jobs.
  • Less burnout: Burnout decreases employee satisfaction12, which can lead to reduced productivity as well as higher turnover. In fact, burnout consistently leads to poorer employee engagement13. Taking time off can reduce burnout.
  • Increased problem solving and creativity: A stressed brain is less efficient in problem-solving, retaining new information, and analyzing available data. Taking time off can help reduce the mental impairment caused by stress. What’s more, traveling can expose your team members to new ways (cultures, beliefs, knowledge), which can help them be more inclusive and creative when they return to work.
  • Inspiration and motivation: Taking some time away from work to help decompress can boost inspiration when your employees return. Ninety-three percent of managers found that taking time off results in better employee motivation14.
  • More engaged workers: Surveys show almost three-quarters of people15 who vacation regularly feel energized and more ready to tackle the tasks at hand. 

How do you know if your employees need to take more vacation times? Here are some Red Flags that your team member would benefit from some time off:

  • Decreased productivity
  • Being late to meetings or with assignments when this is not their usual behavior
  • Being more irritable
  • Being visibly exhausted
  • Having diminished ability to solve problems or communicate effectively
  • Avoiding meetings or interacting with others
  • Experiencing increased sickness or sick days

Interestingly, the concept of “unlimited” vacation does not actually provide the desired benefits of vacation because employees tend to take fewer vacation days16 with such a policy. 

So why don’t people take their allotted vacation time? There are numerous reasons. Luckily, there is much managers can do to overcome these obstacles. Below is a list of some common reasons team members decline to take their PTO and what you can do so that you and your organization can reap the benefits listed above of taking a vacation:


Potential obstacle: Employees having an excessive workload. About 40% of Americans17 cite excessive workload as the reason for not taking time off.

What can you do: Managers can strategize with their team members to delegate, pause or complete assignments before leaving. 

Potential obstacle: Employees being concerned about the cost of a vacation.

What can you do: Business owners can offer vacation vouchers (such as airline tickets) or a vacation stipend that is only usable for time off. It can be applied towards travel, childcare, eating out, learning a new skill or taking on a new hobby that your employees will use during their PTO.


Potential obstacle: Employees having perceived negative sentiments of taking vacation. One study found that 17 percent of managers18 considered employees who take all of their leave to be less dedicated, a sentiment that their employees no-doubt can sense.  When there is a sense that employees are letting their colleagues down or guilt that they are burdening their teammates by taking time off, peer pressure can hinder taking PTO. Two-thirds of American workers report that their company says nothing about the importance of taking all their vacation time, and one-third of supervisors acknowledge that they never bring this topic up.

What can you do: Managers can model prosocial behavior. More than what you say, what you do has a significant impact on your employees. If you genuinely want to get the benefits of your team taking time off, it is vital for you to do the same. This means taking time off yourself, NOT checking in with the office, and trusting your colleagues to do their jobs effectively. And then take it a step further. Create a culture that is not only open to taking a vacation but encourages it.


Potential Obstacle: Employees feeling like they will miss something important while they are gone.

What can you do: Managers can make it against the rules to check in with work, be on emails, attend calls or other meetings. It is vital that your team members mentally detach from work to get the full benefits of taking time off.

A further option is to make vacation mandatory. Yes, that’s right, make it a requirement of their employment. One way to do this is to have company closures, such as a week during August or a week at the end of the year around the holidays. Alternatively, you may consider creating a four-day workweek of 10 hours each, so everyone gets a day “off” each week in addition to the weekend.


Potential Obstacle: Employees may want to “bank” PTO. Some organizations will pay employees for the days they do not take. While this may help boost their bank accounts, such actions can put your team members at increased risk for burnout.

What can you do: Do not pay for unused time off. Or, limit the amount of days employees can “bank” in an effort to encourage them to use their vacation time. In fact, you may even consider the opposite: Incentivize your employees to take their vacation by offering a financial bonus or gift cards to those who take their PTO.


Potential Obstacle: Not wanting to travel or having the means to travel.

What can you do: Remind your employees that vacation time does not have to involve travel. A staycation can be just as beneficial. Encourage your employees to focus on fulfillment. This could mean self-care, sleeping in, tackling a project at home, spending quality time with their partner or children, learning a new skill (such as taking a cooking class) or taking on/enjoying a hobby. Suggest taking time to themselves. They don’t even need to leave the house; they just may not connect with work.


Potential Obstacle: Not having the time or bandwidth to plan something.

What can you do: Offer trip planning services, such as access to a travel agent who will address the needs of the individual (fun activities for kids, vacation for those dealing with health issues, cost-conscious travelers).


Potential Obstacle: Two weeks away from work causes more stress.

What can you do: Recommend taking a few days off at a time. Maybe a few four-day weekends or even a few more three days weekends can help your employees get the benefits of taking time off without the stress of being away for so long.


Potential Obstacle: Fear of RTW: Even the thought of returning to work can cause stress. In fact, 80% of Americans report anxiety each Sunday19, often referred to as the Sunday Scaries. Coming back from longer than two days can be even more stressful.

What can you do: Help set your employees up for success when they return. Perhaps their first day back to work has no meetings (or only one meeting), so they can focus on catching up and being empowered rather than overwhelmed.


Potential Obstacle: Being away but not being away. Almost half of Americans20 report checking in with work while they are gone, and a third report they feel like they cannot disconnect from work even when they are away.

What can you do: Create a zero-contact policy where employees are not permitted to check-in. A client in the banking industry has blossomed ever since the FDIC began requiring that employees from financial institutions take two weeks consecutive vacation each year to help uncover cases of fraud.


Try any or all of these suggestions to help your team members take their vacation so they and your organization can reap the benefits.




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