When It Comes To Time Off, Did You Get The Memo?
TO: American managers
FROM: Project: Time Off
CC: Bill Lumbergh
RE: We need to talk
Put down that TPS report — we’ve got an important question for you.
When’s the last time you talked to someone you manage about vacation? No, I don’t mean begrudgingly explaining how you HAVE to go to the beach for a family reunion while providing 5 methods for contacting you and assuring your team you’ll be working the whole time. Can you honestly remember a conversation you had with your team about the importance of taking time off?
Chances are that question is tougher to answer than you’d like to admit.
In The State of American Vacation 2017, we found that taking time away from the office continues to be a challenge in America’s always-on work culture. A lot of the trouble we’re having stems from a failure to communicate — and, in many cases, can make it seem like non-managers aren’t even working in the same company as their leadership. Consider the following:
- 62% of the senior leaders we surveyed said that they hear about the value of taking time off. But more than half of non-managers say they never hear that.
- Half of senior leaders say their company culture encourages vacation, compared to just 30 percent of non-managers.
- Senior leaders are far more likely to believe management (59% to 39%) and their colleagues (61% to 42%) support them taking time off than non-managers.
Could it be that the reason Americans are leaving millions of vacation days on the table is that we aren’t talking about time off in the right way? Take Millennial employees, for example: more than three in five young workers say they hear nothing, mixed, or negative messages about taking time off. Yet the managers we researched overwhelmingly agreed that vacation time improves health and well-being, boosts morale, alleviates burnout, improves focus, and renews commitment to the job. This disparity between senior leaders and non-managers is clearly a communications problem, not a matter of a discouraging manager.
The fact is, the feelings about time off as a necessary part of a productive workforce needs to be more deeply rooted in our workplaces. And the conversation at the top needs to reach further into the company. Talking, encouraging, and supporting vacation time is part of our job as leaders—as well as modeling good behavior and habits (you know, like not sending emails while supposedly on vacation or planning out your vacation time for the year and encouraging your team to do the same).
One of the best ways to encourage time off really is just using your vacation days—we’re talking to you, 61 percent of senior leaders who leave vacation time on the table. The non-verbal messages we send in the workplace can speak more loudly than anything we can say.
If you consider how many layers of the workforce the message needs to reach, we can’t afford to assume our vacation cultures are positive or that employees will behave differently from the managers they look up to. According to the report, the biggest obstacle is found in the middle:
Looking at employee levels, communication breaks down among middle managers. Caught between the ideals of senior leadership and the practicalities of managing day-to-day operations, middle managers are in a difficult position. They are less likely to believe that company culture is supportive of vacation (38%), a sentiment felt by their direct reports.
Middle managers are more likely to say that they never talk to their direct reports about vacation time than senior leaders (30% to 21%) and admit that company pressure sometimes prevents them from approving time off requests (32% to 24%). These numbers, while alarming, also present a solution for driving positive change. Senior leaders who make it a priority to encourage middle managers to take their earned time off and support direct reports in using their time off can improve employees’ perception of company culture.
Make downtime a priority for your team and for yourself—your workplace will improve in ways that won’t lead to your employees having meltdowns and victimizing the copy machine.
Make a change at your office. Otherwise, we’ll need to have you meet with the Bobs.