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'Use It or Lose It': Getting Employees to Take Time Off

'Use It or Lose It': Getting Employees to Take Time Off
Credit: Cukrov/Shutterstock

As summer winds down, there is a good chance large numbers of employees still have numerous vacation days stocked up.

Fear of being replaced, having work pile up and poor employer support and communication are among the top factors keeping U.S. workers from using all the paid time off they have coming, according to a new study from GfK Public Affairs and Corporate Communications (GfK) and the U.S. Travel Association.

The research revealed that overall, 40 percent of employees will leave vacation days on the table this year. Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, said part of the problem is that many Americans suffer from a work martyr complex.

"In part, it's because 'busyness' is something we wear as a badge of honor," Dow said in a statement. "But it's also because we're emerging from a tough economy and many feel less secure in their jobs."

The study discovered that 40 percent of employees say returning to a mountain of work is the main reason they leave paid time off unused, while 35 percent feel that nobody else can do their work. In addition, more than 20 percent of workers are concerned that taking time off will make them be seen as replaceable by those in charge. [Would Unlimited Vacation Fly at Your Company? ]

Company culture may also play a  part. Despite 95 percent of senior business leaders recognizing the importance of time off, two-thirds of workers indicate their company says nothing, sends mixed messages about or discourages using their paid time off. Additionally, one-third of senior business leaders never, or rarely, talk with employees about the benefits of taking time off.

Researchers say business leaders may be unintentionally sending employees mixed messages when they take their time off. Nearly half of the managers surveyed respond to emails while on vacation, while 29 percent return calls from the office during their time off.

The study's authors said this sends a signal that it is not acceptable to be away from the job.

Chris Moessner, vice president of research at GfK, said the key to encouraging employees to take more time off is by abandoning policies that allow workers to roll vacation time over into the following year.

The study found that 84 percent of employees with a "use it or lose it" policy plan to use all their paid time off in 2014, compared with less than half of workers who can roll over, bank or be paid for unused vacation time.

"Use it or lose it policies are tremendously effective at getting employees to use the time off they have earned," Moessner said.

Dow said in the end, employees will suffer by not taking more time off.

“Unfortunately, workers do not seem to realize that forfeiting their vacation time comes at the expense of their overall health, well-being and relationships," Dow said.

The study was based on surveys of 1,303 American workers working at least 35 hours per week, including 235 managers.

Originally published on Business News Daily.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years in media. A 1998 journalism graduate of Indiana University, Chad began his career with Business News Daily in 2011 as a freelance writer. In 2014, he joined the staff full time as a senior writer. Before Business News Daily, Chad spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Chad has also worked on the other side of the media industry, promoting small businesses throughout the United States for two years in a public relations role. His first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014. He lives with his wife and daughter in the Chicago suburbs.