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Friday, December 23, 2016

The Holdays and Time Off

Written by  Richard Finger

Many employees receive mixed signals about taking time off for the holidays. For example, in one recent company event, it had been relayed to me that the CEO told his employees to “Have a great Holiday … but make your numbers,” then turned to his head of HR, and asked, “Is that what you wanted me to say?” This CEO is a notorious non-stop work machine. Throughout the room, you could hear people murmuring, agitated by the words they just heard. The general takeaway from this audience was a question of whether or not taking time off from work for the holidays would be acceptable, or would it be perceived as taking their eyes off the ball. Knowing the CEO never stops working, people were unsure if this was expected of them, too.

Interestingly enough, statistics show over $200 billion of unused vacation time is sitting on the books across the U.S. With this particular company, the majority of unused vacation time across the organization could be seen on the balance sheets of the world headquarters office, as compared to other locations across the U.S. This provides with some evidence that there is fear of taking time off from work, with a large concern over negative consequences for doing so. Comparatively, if we were to look at the holiday behavior of our colleagues overseas, taking time off from work is often encouraged, and in fact, holiday time is written into the employment contracts of most employees.

Perhaps our European friends have read the studies about plummeting employee engagement and decreased productivity when suitable time off is not granted. These are sure signs of employee burnout. About ten years ago when I was on assignment in the northern part of England, the local Chester City Council met with our leadership team twice a year to discuss employment-related stress, and the proactive steps we were taking to decrease it. One of the metrics they looked at was our holiday policy, and use of such policy, as well as sickness and absenteeism rates, as well as a few other measures. I found myself fascinated by the discussion, as I could not recall any such conversations taking place back home.

For those working in organizations that are on the fence about allowing for time off, here are a few reminders about the benefits of allowing employees to do so. One of the most common benefits of time off is increased energy and less burnout. After taking a few days away from the office, most return ready to deal what is facing them with a clearer mind. A clearer mind leads to more creativity and initiative. It is possible that while employees and managers are taking time off, filling in for said managers and employees can turn into a talent development opportunity. Lastly, if winning the war on talent is something that interests you, a culture of encouraging time off will have a positive correlation to attracting the best candidates and the ability to retain them.

According to Katie Denis, the author of results from Project: Time Off, “From the C-Suite down, managers need to embrace the potential time-off holds for themselves and their employees. Choosing to ignore vacation is choosing to fall behind companies that appreciate its power.

To give credit where due, the content of this column is largely based on an article written by Stephen Miller in this month’s HR Magazine.

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