Bob Larson, CPC
Bob Larson, CPC

Unused Vacation Can Create Problems

Every year, American workers fail to use a third of their allotted vacation time, according to recent data, and increasingly, a recent survey found, they tend to use what time they do take in short spurts of a week or less. On the face of it, unused vacation time may not appear be a bad thing, but it’s clear from a number of reports that problems do tend to crop up–for both employees and employers–when workers fail to use the time coming to them.

That information comes via an article in The New York Times, which also points out that a worker may leave vacation time on the table for many reasons, including business pressures, particularly on senior executives; a reluctance to appear nonessential; a desire to be paid for unused vacation days down the road; and often, the feeling that one’s workplace is anti-vacation.

Yet while many companies have taken steps to encourage workers to use their allotted vacation–especially during the slower summer months–surveys and reports continue to show that more needs to be done to get employees to take time off.

In a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management and, 83 percent of human-resources managers said employees were encouraged to use their vacation time–but only 63 percent of the responding employees agreed that they were. “People say, ‘It’s my workload,’ but when you dig deeper, you find the culture of the organization doesn’t support people taking a lot of time off,” said Carol Sladek, the principal in charge of work-life consulting at Hewitt Associates.

By not taking time off, the article noted, some employees burn out as they continue slogging through long workdays—hardly a desirable result for them or their managers. Worse, employees who identified themselves as overworked in a study by the Families and Work Institute in 2005 said they were more likely to make mistakes, feel angry at their employer and resent co-workers.

Even when employees get away for breaks, they often spend time with their Blackberrys or laptops. A third of employees responding to the society’s survey said they usually took work along with them on vacation and on average, spent 9 percent of their theoretical downtime working or checking in.

And many say it takes them an average of three days to relax when taking vacation time, according to a Families and Work Institute study.

“Our data lead us to conclude that employers need to rethink the way employees work today,” the institute said in its 2005 report, “Overwork in America.” “A useful analogy is competitive sports,” the report said, “where it is well known that periods of recovery need to be interspersed with periods of ‘pushing hard.’” In other words, smart managers need to find ways to shoo employees out of the office, the article noted.

To counter the vacation hoarding problem, many companies have either reduced or eliminated the vacation days that can be carried over from year to year. A growing number of them are also turning to paid-time-off accounts that encourage both vacation and sick days. When employees can use the time for any reason, they are more likely to plan ahead, alleviating difficulties with last-minute absences. Sladek of Hewitt estimates that one quarter of all large employers now offer these accounts, up from roughly 6 percent 10 years ago.

Wachovia, the bank based in Charlotte, N.C., limits vacation carryovers and offers paid-time-off accounts, and its unused vacation time is about average for financial services companies, Sharon Matthews, the bank’s director of work-life policy, told the newspaper.

But that still means Wachovia employees are forgoing a fair amount of free time: Matthews estimated that for the bank’s employees who are allowed to keep unused vacation time, the average carryover is about seven days.

Wachovia has just made it easier, though, to take vacations: as of Jan. 1, new hires, who were previously not allowed to take time off in their first 90 days, can do so now. “It allows us to recognize that life happens,” Matthews said. And not just in the office.

News from BLK

In our continuing effort to offer our clients service targeted most specifically to their requirements, we are pleased to announce that Joanne Dikun, Business Development Associate, will be heading up our new QA initiative. If you contract with us to conduct a candidate search, Joanne will call you to solicit your feedback and discuss your experience working with BLK.

Bob Larson, CPC will be a featured speaker at an owners’ retreat being held the first week in June in Point Pleasant Beach, NJ. Attendees will include members of the New Jersey Staffing Alliance (NJSA), the New York State Staffing Association (NYSA), the Pennsylvania Staffing Association Eastern, and the Mid-Atlantic Association of Personnel Consultants (MAAPC). Bob will discuss how to become a “Best Employer”.