vacation time

Why forfeiting vacation days is bad for business

With just a few weeks to go until the end of the year, many employees in the U.S. are thinking about vacation time. Not where they’ll go or what they’ll do, necessarily, but whether they’ve got any left.

In many cases, there won’t be much, if any, but in others there will be. And in these instances, those whose companies have a “use it or lose it” policy will end up losing it.

But should they? Although some U.S. companies tacitly condone this, especially as the United States is the only developed country that doesn’t legally require employers to provide time off, not taking vacation time can be counterproductive. According to a recent survey by the U.S. Travel Association, employees who don’t periodically unplug from work tend to be more stressed out and less engaged; they also receive fewer bonuses and raises.

And these aren’t just a few work martyrs either, but more than half of all adult American workers notes the association. Reasons for not using all of their vacation days varied, but the most common cited were having too much work upon one’s return (especially for Millennial women), feeling that no one else would be able to do the job, and being unable to afford a vacation. Some respondents also said they wanted to show “complete dedication.”

The good news, according to the survey’s findings, is that this trend is changing. At least a little. Three years ago, the average number of vacation days taken had reached its lowest point in nearly 40 years, but last year it began rising again.

Should this be a sign of things to come, companies are likely to benefit, as mounds of evidence support the idea that recharging our batteries makes us happier, healthier, and ultimately more productive.

In fact, says Shawn Achor, psychologist and bestselling author, happy and engaged employees are a company’s biggest competitive advantage. Or, as he puts it in a 2014 TED Talk, “Your brain at positive is 31 percent more productive than your brain at negative, neutral, or stressed. You’re 37 percent better at sales. Doctors are 19 percent faster, more accurate at coming up with the correct diagnosis when positive instead of negative, neutral or stressed.”

So how can organizations encourage employees to not forfeit their time off? They can incent them, as some companies do, by footing the cost of the trip. But as this isn’t feasible for most, there are other less expensive tactics says Entrepreneur. These include “practicing what you preach” (that is, the CEO takes a vacation), encouraging employees to discuss challenges with their workloads, flexible scheduling of work hours, and “surprise” holidays, which everyone takes at once.