The Rise of the Chief Overworked Officer

It’s a familiar scenario: you’ve stashed away some vacation days over the course of the year and now it’s time to figure out the best way to use them.

But when someone like Whole Foods CEO Walter Robb has more than 2,700 hours of time off hoarded away, it’s a different dilemma.

Robb’s vacation habits, or lack thereof, are hardly an outlier. In fact, hanging on to earned time off is a contagious trend — both within Robb’s company and beyond.

According to a 2015 Bloomberg report citing SEC regulatory filings, all seven top executives at Whole Foods were sitting on more than 1,200 hours of time off. Additionally, chief executives at influential companies like Apple and Qualcomm were also eschewing taking time off, instead taking cash reimbursements for unused time.

In fact, our report on The High Price of Silence showed that while 93% of managers said that time off was important for their employees, almost three in five were simultaneously leaving their own days off unused.

This behavior is confounding, especially since research shows us that positive vacation behaviors — which lead to more productive and effective workers — trickle down from the top. Over the past year, our research has shown that bosses can be a more important influencer on employees than even their family. While the solution to this issue can be as simple as talking to your employees about why taking a break is vital, that can be hard to do when the people who are responsible for sending that message aren’t taking vacations themselves.

Fortunately, there are some examples for executives and other company leaders to follow. Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, not only plans to dedicate six weeks of every year to taking vacation, but also clearly and frequently communicates the importance of this strategy, telling CNBC that “you often do your best thinking when you're off hiking in some mountain or something.”

"For all of your employees, it really is about work-life integration,” Hastings added.

Whether it is by practicing what they preach or by finding creative ways to incentivize employees to take their time off, the need is clear. After all, Project: Time Off research shows that 72% of managers agree that encouraging time off makes their employees more willing to put in longer hours when the business needs it the most.

What executive wouldn’t want that?

December 20, 2016