In a culture obsessed with the importance of work, a stigma has evolved around taking time off.
A 2016 study by Roy Morgan revealed that one in three Australians have more than four weeks leave accrued, but no plan to use it. And when the other 66% go on holiday, less than half take all the hours they’re entitled to.
The result? A workforce as burnt out after taking a break as before it.
It’s time to do something about that, for the betterment of our businesses.
The Cost of Working Too Hard
Statistics show that when workers refuse to take leave, they’re bodies force them to slow down in more costly ways. Absenteeism – sick leave, mental health leave, disability leave – is costing Australian businesses $33 billion annually, and costing Australian workers their wellbeing.
Of great concern, it’s only getting worse. In all, average absentee rates rose 10.5% in 2016, suggesting that even as businesses look to adapt to the eponymous future of work, traditional problems are spiralling out of control.
What both leaders and workers are failing to recognise is that being away from work is just as valuable to better business as any other aspect of a job.
As we’ve discussed before, the brain has two modes: ‘focus mode’ and ‘diffuse mode’. The assumption is generally made that to gather insight, the brain must be focused, but that simply isn’t the case. The most successful people will always be those who understand that it takes both modes to do the best work possible. That’s why it so often seems like our best ideas come to us in the shower.
A holiday is just an extended period of diffusion for the brain. A chance to relax, recharge, and grow.
Doesn’t that sound important to you?
So How Do We Turn Holidays to Our Advantage?
Leaders, if your employees are not making the most of their leave, it’s time to reconsider your vacation system.
Here’s how a few innovative businesses are doing just that:
Adobe Offers Staff Unlimited Vacation:
Adobe has established a policy that allows employees to coordinate with their managers to take time off whenever they please. Doing so offers them the opportunity to recognise when they need time off and act accordingly, rather than having to check their timesheet to see if they can afford to do so. Such policies recognise employees as individuals; a position inherent to any sustainable business.
The problem tends to be that, in fast-paced, competitive companies that implement this policy, employees aren’t taking advantage of it. Perhaps it’s because they don’t want to be seen as being lazy in comparison to their colleagues, or maybe it’s the stress of knowing how many extra hours they’ll need to put in just to feel confident that everything is in order before they leave.
Smaller companies might benefit from such a policy more, due to the kind of trust and understanding that usually develops in such organisations, though concerns over flexibility and cost may prove daunting at first.
SimpliFlying Sets Mandatory Vacation Periods:
A recent collaboration between global aviation strategy firm SimpliFlying and Neil Pasricha, Director of The Institute for Global Happiness, saw the company’s 10 staff forced to take a week off every seven weeks. The terms were so strict, that if employees were found to be doing work in any capacity – even opening Slack – they would not be paid for that week.
Pasricha detailed the results in a report for HBR earlier this week.
“Creativity went up 33%, happiness levels rose 25%, and productivity increased 13%. It’s a small sample, sure, but there’s a meaningful story here.
This complements the feedback we got from employees who, upon their return, wrote blog posts about their experiences with the process and what they did with their time. Many talked about how people finally found time to cross things off of their bucket lists — finally holding an art exhibition, learning a new language, or traveling somewhere they’d never been before.”
By making these vacation periods mandatory, SimpliFlying gave them the ability (and, sometimes, the excuse) they needed to go beyond their norm in exciting ways. The growth these experiences inspired was brought back into the office in a meaningful way, and the business benefited as a result.
Such frequency proved to be a challenge – Pasricha later changed it to every eight weeks – and set a rule that once an employee returned, everyone must be in the office for a full week until the next employee departs. Whether the policy will prove sustainable remains to be seen, but the results are positive.
Travis CI Implemented a Minimum Vacation Policy:
As long as the work was done, Travis CI CEO Mathias Meyer didn’t care how many vacations his team took. He implemented an unlimited vacation policy as a result, thinking it would prove positive.
The amount of vacation days actually went down.
Some in the industry championed this result, claiming it as a victory. They felt by making his employees solely accountable for their time off, he’d instilled a better work ethic in them.
Meyer was horrified.
“It’s a race to the bottom instead of a race towards a well rested and happy team”, he wrote in 2014 as part of an announcement as to why he was scrapping the policy.
He replaced it with a minimum vacation policy under which employees must take 25 days off per year. They can choose these dates, so they don’t feel any pressure to either work or ignore work at a time when they should be relaxing. Meyer and his executive team must take these 25 days as well.
What will work for your business is ultimately up to you.
As with all good policy, change should be dictated by the needs of those it serves, not by tradition nor expectation. But it should be changed, to ensure both you and your employees remain at the top of your game.