Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial kick-off to summer, is upon us. Grills will be dusted off and fired up; burgers, brats and corn on the cob will be prepared; bikes will be ridden down ridiculously long paths; swimming pools will be cannonballed into; bathers will be sunned; time with family and friends will be had; and… work will be done?
A new CareerBuilder study of more than 5,600 workers shows that many employees are excitedly taking the fishing rods out of storage, only to sadly put them back hours later in an Arrested Development George Michael-type moment. Due to financial constraints and demanding work schedules, many workers are giving up their vacation plans this year by either choice or necessity (see a snapshot here). Twenty-four percent of full-time workers, in fact, reported they can’t afford to take a vacation this year, up from 21 percent in 2010. Another 12 percent reported they can afford a vacation, but don’t have plans to take one this year.
Despite these sour numbers, the majority of workers are still planning to take some time away from work — the physical “work,” at least. Three in ten workers plan to take work with them on vacation. Thirty percent said they will contact work while on vacation, up from 25 percent last year.
On the flip side…
While some workers are stuck pretending their vacuum is a jet-ski this year, more than one-third (36 percent) of workers reported feeling more comfortable taking a vacation than they did in 2010. The economy is healing in various ways, and some people’s wallets are also healing enough that vacation is now an option. Twenty-six percent of workers are planning a vacation of 7 to 10 days, while 11 percent expect to be gone 2 weeks or longer. On the more conservative side, 24 percent are planning for a 3 to 5 days for vacation or a weekend getaway. And many (including CareerBuilder’s own VP of HR), say traveling across the world or just setting up camp in your house — and away from your office — is good for your health and may translate to better work while in the office:
“Taking advantage of vacation or paid-time-off benefits is critical not only to your well-being, but to your overall job performance,” said Rosemary Haefner, Vice President of Human Resources at CareerBuilder. “Workers who set aside time for R&R tend to have less burnout, more creative energy and higher quality output. While financial challenges and heavy workloads may make vacation planning difficult, it’s important to find time to recharge away or at home. It can ultimately translate into a more gratifying work experience that benefits you, your family and your employer.”
So, how can employers turn the vacation outlook from bleak to beachy? Here are Haefner’s tips for helping your employees — and you — take better advantage of time off:
1) Encourage them to give plenty of notice. Twenty-four percent of workers reported they have had to work while their family went on vacation without them — which is the furthest thing from “fun.” Let your employees know it’s helpful if they coordinate schedules with family, friends and co-workers as early in advance as possible, to more effectively plan vacations before/after big projects and events. Advance notice also gives the vacationing employee, as well as his or her colleagues, plenty of time to prepare and adjust work loads accordingly. Set expectations as far as whether employees want or need to be contacted while on vacation, stick to what you both agree upon, and communicate that to the team as well.
2) Don’t take them on a guilt trip. Twelve percent of workers reported they feel guilty that they’re not at work while they’re on vacation. Your organization’s vacation benefits are there for a reason — and by setting a positive tone and stressing that vacation is time for employees to enjoy themselves and forget about work as much as possible (and following through by not emailing and calling them while they’re away), you can ease that sense of guilt and show employees that they can, and should, feel good about taking time off work to relax and spend time with family and friends. The work can wait, and if you help them prepare effectively, their time out of the office will be virtually obstacle-free.
3) Consider discounts — and if you have them, spread the word. Many employers offer discounts on personal entertainment and travel for employees that may make vacation plans more affordable — do you? If not, it’s worth looking into options for business-wide discounts; your employees will appreciate the perk and get better use out of their travel time, and you will be providing a valuable benefit that will not only make current employees happy, but will also help attract future employees to your organization.
4) Make sure they’re covered. Don’t punish your employees who have scheduled a vacation by abandoning them — instead, give them a hand. Buddy them up with other co-workers to cross-train on responsibilities and keep track of upcoming deadlines, key contacts, and placement of important information to help everyone function more efficiently when someone is out of the office. Think broadly and evaluate how one person’s absence affects other employees who work with them; ensure that any involved parties are kept abreast of project shifts.
5) Use ‘em or lose ‘em. Sixteen percent of workers reported they gave up vacation days in 2010 because they didn’t have time to use them. Remind employees that vacations don’t have to be an around-the-world trip; even a day off here and there can be a refreshing break from the office grind — and is better than no vacation time at all.
I would also add: Be realistic. If an employee misses 40 hours of work while on vacation, it’s not practical to expect them to make up that entire 40 hours of work once they return. Help employees prioritize what needs to get done before and after they’re gone, so they don’t feel so overloaded (and can actually enjoy their time off). Consult with them on what work is most important, and what can be eliminated or put off until they return and catch up. Some projects or tasks may be able to be jump-started early in anticipation of a vacation; others may be able to wait.
If you’re communicating with your employees and setting up expectations upfront that both parties agree upon, there won’t be surprises later — and employees won’t have to spend all year turning their cubicle into a beach resort and wishing the water cooler into a daiquiri machine.