Time off is a busy HR intersection where personal lives cross paths with business productivity, and trust in your company culture must be the guiding traffic light. Is it any wonder so many employees and companies end up stalled?
A new survey released by Namely may reveal the true conflict: Employees want to take time off, but they’re simply not doing it.
Vacation, All I Ever Wanted
Our recent survey of 471 employed adults in the U.S. revealed that paid time off is the most important employee benefit for several employees. 1 in 5 are willing to give up a higher salary for more PTO or an unlimited policy. Furthermore, 87% of employees rated PTO policies a high priority when evaluating a new job’s benefits and compensation package—with over half calling PTO “very critical.” And just how much time off do people plan on taking? Over half of employees plan on 15 days or more of paid time off this year, with 20% planning on taking more than 20 days.
So, what’s the kicker of it all? Those carefree summer days and summer nights just aren’t coming to fruition.
The average American only took 11 vacation days in 2015 according to another recent survey. That’s a full 4 to 9 planned days that are going unused by employees—and sometimes more. According to Namely’s survey, over half of employees claim they typically book a week or more of time off in advance. But in reality, the average duration of a time off request is just 2.34 days according to data collected from the Namely platform.
It’s no secret that America comes in last among advanced economies in terms of mandated vacation days, with several American workers charting up their weekly hours worked like badges of honor. But what does it say when there’s a very real, collective misperception of the time that employees plan on taking—time that 57% of employees answered they would use for spending time with family—that they don’t really take? Is it a simple failure of wishful thinking? Or should we point the blame in the other direction—back on HR and the company itself?
I’ve Got the Power
We asked Matt Straz, Founder and CEO of Namely, to weigh-in on the trend. “What this tells us is that despite the best intentions to take large chunks of time away from work and unplug from technology, employees are feeling confined and are using vacation time differently than previous generations,” he said. “The result is shorter, more frequent bursts of vacation time requested last minute, which means it’s even more critical for today’s employees and HR departments to effectively communicate to mitigate any business impact.”
The biggest preventer of PTO, according to Namely’s recent survey, comes as no surprise: rigid company policies (26%). That is followed in close second by “stress at the thought of missing time at work” (21%). Both of those issues fall squarely in HR’s camp—policy and culture.
There’s no right answer to just how much PTO is appropriate for today’s working professional. Any thought leader will throw out any number of days, and the answer will vary greatly from employee to employee, as Namely’s survey recently ratified. But what organizations can do is empower their people. They can remove the barriers that stop employees from taking the time off that they do plan to take—the time off they need to stay happy and engaged. HR can truly create a better managed, more human workplace where employees are at the very least empowered to work in the very way they see fit. Here’s how.
1. Codify your culture’s expectations around time off and share them in an understandable way with people managers and employees.
According to data from the Namely platform, employees on “unlimited” time off plans only average one more vacation day per year than those employees on “limited” plans. That means HR and managers need to be clear about the time off they expect employees to take annually—no matter what kind of plan is in place. And employees take cues from their managers. For instance, 53 percent of managers surveyed by Project: Time Off admit they set a bad example for using time off for employees.
It’s HR’s responsibility to sit down and review or update vacation policies. Send an updated version of the employee handbook to employees, or schedule a lunch and learn for sections of the company to learn about new changes. Don’t forget to update career web pages and job boards with the changes so candidates are familiar with time off policies before they’re in the door. Put the information in many different forms and many different places so employees can’t miss it.
2. Utilize mobile HR for time off requests.
An easy fix for giving employees more power to easily request time off is to give them a mobile app for sending in their requests right when they’re thinking of them. According to Namely’s survey, 76% of all employees would use a mobile app to access a company’s HR tools like time off requests—and millennials are 20% more likely to gravitate towards using an app.
Kathryn Goodick, HR Director at SwervePoint, uses the Namely mobile app at her company. “Our employees are thrilled to now be able to submit time off requests from their mobile devices,” she says, “and it gives me and our managers greater visibility into our employees’ plans at any time.”
When employees have the capability right at their fingertips to better manage their vacations, you’re one step closer to helping give them the work-life balance they desire.
3. Manage a flexible time off policy with all-in-one HR technology.
No matter what exact time off policy your culture settles on, it needs to be flexible enough to support everyone at your company. But the reason several companies don’t implement more innovative policies is simple: they’re harder for HR to manage. Docking employee requests against a bank of 10 days per year sure is easier than handling random requests on the fly and totaling them with an unlimited plan.
When you use HR technology to keep all of your employee data in one place, all of that becomes easier. “This is where HR technology becomes about more than performance reviews, and actually about helping employees manage work-life integration,” says Matt Straz. Imagine time off requests filtering into a company calendar so everyone can keep track of who’s in and who’s out. Also, when payroll, performance, and time off are all managed in one place, you instantly see the full picture of how an employee contributes to your org and interacts with his or her team.
Just like innovative software and tech companies need the best tools to create the future of technology, your culture needs the right tools in order to create an innovative culture. Don’t go it alone and instead get the HR tech you need.
4. Fill in the gaps by cultivating a culture that cares about people.
If employees aren’t taking the time off they need to, there might not be an issue with policy. The issue might be a bit greater one—company culture.
Consider how other facets of your culture may influence how your employees feel about work. The 2015 Staples Business Advantage Workplace Index survey found that 52 percent of respondents feel they can’t even get up to take a break in a regular workday. Furthermore, about four out of 10 work on weekends at least once a month.
But managers know their employees need breaks! In the Project: Time Off survey, 80 percent of managers said that using vacation time is important to maintain team energy levels, and 74 percent said it gives employees better attitudes. So if people at your company are overworked and overlooking their time away from the grind, let them know where your culture stands. Whether that’s in daily breaks, organized lunch hours, no-work weekends, or email curfews—fill in the gaps between those vacation days with breaths of fresh air.
Managing time off doesn’t need to be as tedious as a traffic jam. With the right tech in place to empower your performers—and a people-centric culture founded on trust—you’ll be surprised how easy it is to get your whole company cruising down a productive, well-balanced road.