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When it comes to vacation time, downtime is critical to overall productivity. Maybe your company has an unlimited vacation policy, so there’s nothing stopping you from leaving work behind, right? 

Well, maybe not. 

For many Americans, the idea of taking a vacation from work is extremely stressful. Many believe that returning to a pile of work makes taking time off not worth the trouble.

But leaving work behind to enjoy vacation time, even for a staycation at home, helps you and your employees recharge energy and creativity. In fact, downtime away from work and technology are not only essential for work-life balance, but research shows that working 50 hours a week or more is bad, not only for productivity, but also for mental and physical well-being. 


Why Vacation Time is Critical to Our Well Being

coffee on a ledge by the mountains

A while ago, I wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review. I discussed how vacation policies in our nation’s companies hinder people from using their vacation time. Post-pandemic, the article continues to be even more relevant.  

A 2022 survey of more than 10,000 workers across several countries found that executives reported 20% worse work-life balance and 40% more work-related stress and anxiety than workers surveyed the prior year.

Vacation is an essential part of the solution. But employee vacations need to be done right and that starts with their company’s time off policies.

Eliminating Vacation Policies Can Mean Unlimited Vacation Time

A woman sits by the ocean working while on her vacation

Some companies have eliminated vacation-time tracking altogether. This gives employees more flexibility to arrange their off time to suit their individual needs and schedules.  

Virgin, Netflix, and Expedia are a few of the companies that implemented an unlimited vacation policy; technically, staff can take vacation when they want, for as long as they want.

But an unlimited vacation policy may not really deal with the problem, because, unless we’re completely off the grid, our colleagues will reach us on the beach while we’re sipping a Mai Tai, or while we’re riding the lift up the ski slope. 

By reconnecting to work while on vacation—for example, by checking emails, texts, and voicemails—our minds are still at the office. Of course, this interferes with our ability to truly refresh and restore our bodies and brains so that we can return to work energized, motivated, and revitalized.

Work Martyrs Won’t Take Much Time Off

A woman at a laptop working at the office at night

The U.S. Travel Association has labeled people who stay connected to work while on vacation as “work martyrs.” Americans don’t want to face the backlog of work when they return from vacation time. 

In addition, “work martyrs” feel that they are the only ones who can do their jobs.  Some are even afraid of losing their jobs, because taking time off may deem them as “replaceable.”  And it’s possible these feelings are justified.  

Worse, according to a report in Glassdoor, many Americans leave their paid vacation days unused.  

Corporate leaders must be good role models when it comes to taking time off. If the corporate culture undermines their vacation policies, and leaders don’t take a truly unplugged vacation, they are doing damage to their teams by role-modeling how to be a “work martyr.”  


The Positive Impact of Vacation on Employee Retention 

3 people riding the lift up a ski mountain while on vacation

Forward-thinking leaders recognize the correlation between vacation policies and employee retention rates.

According to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management, 78% of employees considered the availability of vacation time an important factor in their decision to stay with a company. 

Implementing generous and flexible vacation policies helps foster loyalty and long-term commitment.


How to Support Your Employees in Using Vacation Time

A notebook cover that says "Paid Time Off" on the front

Leaders who understand the connection between unplugging and employee productivity are implementing vacation policies that incentivize team members to take time off. 

Companies like Full Contact and SteelHouse offer an annual vacation stipend. At Full Contact, you need to actually go somewhere and fully disconnect to get the full stipend of $7,500. 

There are several ways you can help your team members feel better about using their vacation days. 

1. Education

Share this article. Explain that you don’t want them to take vacation out of the goodness of your heart, but because you know that the best thing people can do for their work is—not work.

2. Role-Model and Recharge

If you’re a leader, it’s important for you to use vacation time to recharge your energy.  It’s also important that you not connect to the office while away, even by email. You, too, need the restorative benefits of time off.

3. Create a Team Backup Plan

As a leader, you can appoint a trusted staff member to assume the duties and responsibilities of a person taking vacation. This alleviates the necessity of the manager to “check in” at work while on vacation. The added responsibility for the staffer filling in can promote growth and self-confidence.

If your workers don’t take time away from work to recharge, company productivity will suffer. To learn more about how vacation policy in corporate America is broken, read the full Harvard Business Review article.

And for more on how to create a culture that fosters productivity, read my book ,Everyone Wants to Work Here: Attract the Best Talent, Energize Your Team and Be the Leader In Your Market.