You Don't Need a Better Vacation Plan. You Need a Plan to Communicate It.

As the labor market tightens, human resource departments across the country are balancing how to attract and retain the best talent while getting the most out of their people. Big or small, companies are asking a lot of the same questions.

How can we encourage productivity and avoid burnout? 

What will reduce our turnover? 

How can we be recognized as a top workplace?

How can we achieve greater employee engagement? 

The questions are complex and can feel overwhelming. But there is one tool already at the disposal of most companies that can positively affect company culture and build a more productive, creative workforce. Vacation. The trouble is, vacation policies often sit ignored in an employee handbook, achieving little but existence. 

You might be thinking, “We already offer vacation time, and employees know the policy.” Simply offering it isn't enough. It has to be talked about and encouraged if you want it to be a shining star of your company culture. Having a policy you don't communicate is like throwing your clothes in the washing machine but never selecting the corresponding wash setting. The end result of your workforce will be the same as your laundry—damp, unfinished, and lacking vibrant color.

Here’s the Issue
Today, Americans take less time off—several days worth, in fact—than they did historically. So the idea that Americans have always been this way, just doesn't hold water. We've always had a strong work ethic, but we haven't always been work martyrs.


But in a single year, Americans left 658 million days of vacation on the table. The really vexing part? Project: Time Off research shows that most managers say they understand how important taking time off can be to an employee’s productivity and team skills. Yet while 91% of managers say that they actively encourage time off, only 43% actually talk to their employees about it. 

This communications contradiction can be damaging. On the bright side, human resources professionals are in a position to create positive change—change that doesn't have to cost a thing or require more than simple conversation. 

At Erie Insurance, employees weren't taking advantage of a traditional paid time off program. Due to the high average tenure of employees and a generous amount of days available, Erie’s employees were carrying over 26,000 hours of time off. Nine percent of their workforce flat-out lost vacation days. By communicating the importance of vacation as a benefit well in advance and surveying their employees, Erie developed a vacation conversion program that allowed employees to sell back a limited number of days, provided they take some days in exchange. Combined with its central philosophy that Erie gives employees vacation so they will use it, the program has been a great success and has actually encouraged vacation usage with employees who have used the program to help fund dream weddings and vacations that they could not otherwise afford. 

Meanwhile, at Finish Line, a similar commitment to culture drove the company to make a change to unlimited time off. To dispel concerns about the change in policy and make it clear they wanted employees to take time off, Finish Line actively encouraged its workforce by instituting a minimum of three weeks a year. 

No two benefit policies are the same—or need to be the same to be successful. Unlimited generates the most interest (and many challenges), but employees with use-it-or-lose-it policies take more actual days. It’s not about a question of how many days you offer, but whether you’re communicating the importance of taking those days and giving employees permission to use what they earn. Try starting a conversation at your office — you'll find that the best policy is only as good as the conversation around it.

May 16, 2017