The Need for Vacation


I’ve always been a believer in taking time away from work. Sometimes you just need a day, sometimes you need a full two weeks. The point is that in order to stay sane, you just need a break from the stress of work to recharge.

Well, I saw a tweet from Ann Lombardi today and it made me want to speak out.

Bears repeating: #USA has west. world’s largest % of lost use/lose #vacation time. Break that workoholism cycle. #travel

The implication is that this is a bad thing. I think the stat is a good thing. Here’s why…

Most companies have a limit to the amount of vacation an employee can carry over from year to year. This is setup so employees cannot carry large amount of vacation around for years, leading to a massive cash expenditure when the employee leaves. Another side effect of unlimited carry-over is that nobody is forced to take a vacation. If you don’t take a vacation it doesn’t matter. You will still get the benefit in cash when you leave the company.

Most companies that decide to not let employees carry large volumes of vacation from year to year and allow employees to cash out excess vacation at the end of the year. This is worse. Now employees can earn a bonus simply by not taking vacation. The message is “Work hard and earn an extra year-end bonus”.

Finally, there are the companies that have a use or lose policy. Employees are permitted to carry over a certain amount of hours each year but any hours in excess of that are lost. No money. Nothing.

My last company had this policy. You could carry over two weeks of vacation from one year to the next. Anything left over you lost.

Contrary to what you might think, this was great. People could save some vacation for big trips but employees essentially had to take their full allotment of vacation or it was gone.

The result? People took vacations. They did their best to make sure that the benefit wasn’t left on the table. There were always people scrambling at the end of the year when they realized they hadn’t planned adequately, but that rarely occurred twice.

In fact, this policy forced some of the more workaholic people to take time away. That was critical in reducing burnout.

Use or lose vacation is great. It drives the desired behavior, which is time away from the office to recharge. While many U.S. companies may not give out nearly as much vacation as the European countries, the use or lose concept works.

2 thoughts on “The Need for Vacation

  1. Interesting reading.

    You’re right about the “workoholism”. And it’s interesting the part “culture” plays.

    Before I came to Europe, the norm was to take, maybe, max. two weeks vacation a year. Anything longer felt “wrong”. There was also implied “pressure” from management, and other staff, to keep the vacation short. And to also take their Blackberry’s with them so they can be contacted.

    However, in Europe (or at least in the Netherlands), the view of vacations was different. Not only was anything less than 4 weeks “not really a vacation”, it was also more “accepted” as being normal. Plans and work schedules were modified as necessary to accommodate people’s absence due to vacation. The vacation is sacrosanct. Contacting the person for work-related items is just not done.

    I found this “way of thinking” very hard in the beginning – “My god…FOUR weeks?!” But as the years have passed, I can see definitely see a different view of work/life balance. There is a strong emphasis on “family” and “personal life”.

    Interestingly enough though, late last year Volkswagen decided to shut down Blackberry access 30 minutes after people have left for home. This is because the checking of emails on Blackberry’s was causing work and home lives to “become blurred.”

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