You’ve planned the perfect vacation: got good deals on the hotels and airfare, created a jammed-packed itinerary and bought some new luggage.
There’s only one thing left to do: request the time off at work.
Requesting time off for a vacation can be a nerve-wracking experience for some workers.
Research shows that vacations are beneficial for both employees and employers, but time off requests don’t always go over well.
Whether it’s intentional or not, a manager’s or a co-worker’s reaction to absences can set a detrimental tone to vacation requests.
Fear of backlash, promotion hindrance or leaving colleagues in a pinch can make a worker avoid using their vacation days.
“One of things people need to do for recovery from stress is to take time off, and if they are reluctant to do so or don’t have the support from colleagues and supervisors they are likely not getting the recovery time they need to recharge,” explained Dr. David Ballard, the head of American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence.
A 2017 report from Glassdoor shows that the average US worker only took 54% of their eligible paid vacation time in the past year. Paid time off is not mandated in the US, but many companies offer the benefit to attract the best talent.
Leaving vacation days unused can affect your mental health, productivity and work-life balance.
“If people aren’t engaging in stress reduction, they aren’t returning to their normal level of functioning, which can lead to higher levels of stress, which can lead to burnout and affect job performance,” said Ballard.
Not using all your vacation time also means you’re leaving money on the table when paid time off is part of your overall compensation.
Peer pressure plays a major role when workers are deciding to use vacation time, which is why experts said both workers and managers need to be more aware of how they react to avoid vacation shaming and encourage taking time outside the office.
Employers: practice what you preach
A manager that doesn’t take a vacation or continues to work while out of the office sets the tone for workers.
“Managers who say they want you to completely check out and relax, but on their own vacation are calling in twice a day and checking email are sending a message that is important,” said Marc Cenedella, founder and CEO of job search website Ladders.
Managers should also be careful not to brag about an employee who took a vacation, but continued to work. “You don’t want workers to think you value employees who ‘sort of’ take a vacation,” said Johnny Taylor, president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management.
Managers should also be careful how they greet workers returning from time off.
Saying things like: “You’re finally back!” or “How was that long vacation?” can seem innocent, but sends mixed signals.
“People don’t know whether you are hinting or messaging that you aren’t happy with the situation,” said Taylor.
It’s also important not to guilt fresh-from-vacation employees for anything bad that happened when they were away.
“Do not blame or even hint that the outcome would have been different had the person not been on vacation,” warned Taylor. “That builds a culture to people that vacations are not welcome and that we give it to you, but we don’t want you to take it.”
While most companies set a maximum number of days workers can take, Cenedella, suggested companies impose a minimum.
“There should be a minimum of two weeks that everyone should have to take and the manager’s performance review should depend on her people taking vacation,” he said.
Employees: get over yourself
Workers also play a role when it comes to using vacation days.
“There is also vacation avoidance,” said Cenedella. “People want to feel important and needed in the office and indispensable and taking off a full week or even two in a row can lead some people to inaccurately feel they aren’t important in the office.”
Putting in vacation requests early can also help managers schedule and maximize everyone’s days off.
“Not everyone can be out at the same time, plan ahead so it’s manageable,” said Taylor.
Fear of the vacation aftermath (e.g. the pile of work waiting for you when you return) can also make workers skip taking time off.
“That can be managed,” said Ballard. “Plan ahead and work with the team on how coverage is going to work without you. Have a plan in place so critical activities are covered and let people know you are going to be away.”