Some workplaces are like ghost towns this time of year. That’s because organizations that do not keep close watch on the unused vacation time of their workforces find themselves dealing with a big end-of-year absenteeism problem. For many companies, it’s “use it or lose it” and employees scramble in the month of December to get in all the time off to which they are entitled.
But this year may be different. In this challenging economy, many nervous workers who were desperate to hang onto their jobs gave up their vacation time to demonstrate a positive work ethic to their employers and maintain visibility. Some workers feel this sacrifice was worth it; while for others, it’s just one more thing to gripe about when it comes to their job. A 2009 survey by online travel provider Expedia.com revealed that 34 percent of employed U.S. adults will not use all of their earned vacation time this year, even though 89 percent believe they are entitled to it. Nearly one-third of the employees admitted they have trouble coping with stress from work during vacation cycles and women feel greater guilt about taking time off than their male counterparts (40 percent of women vs. 29 percent of men).
In a release issue earlier this year, Chief Executive Officer John A. Challenger of the global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., said, “In the current environment, where companies are making relatively quick decisions about staffing levels, being out of sight could lead to being out of a job.” Challenger advocates that vacationing workers stay connected to their employers through technology. He continues, “The advice of wellness experts who urge workers to cut off all contact with the office while on vacation would be fine in a Utopian world. But we live in the fiercely competitive real world, where employers cannot afford to put any piece of business in jeopardy because you are purposely unreachable. Now is a particularly bad time to provoke any doubt about your commitment, because the pool of available, skilled replacements grows daily.”
Still, Americans are faring better than the Japanese when it comes to leaving vacation days on the table. U.S. workers will give back an average of three vacation days each while the Japanese average seven unused vacation days per worker.
One anonymous worker confided to me recently, “I didn’t stay on top of my vacation time this year. I kept putting off taking days because I was carrying the workloads of former colleagues who had been laid off. Now I have a mountain of time and our company policy will only let me carry over a maximum of three days. Yes, I’m happy I have a job when so many are out of work, but I really need a vacation.” The worker is right when it comes to re-energizing and an improved employment outlook. According to the Expedia.com survey, 34 percent of Americans said they came back from vacations with more positive feelings about their jobs and feeling more productive.
It may be too late to get your fair share of time off this year, but you can still make some suggestions to your HR department or boss to make better use of this time going forward. Here are two growing strategies for unused vacation time:
• Convert to health wellness days or sick days which can be used for annual exams, outpatient procedures, sick or disability needs carried over to the new year.
• Donate to an employee “sick bank” to be used in the future for colleagues faced with difficult family situations, emergencies or illness who need time and have used all their paid time off.
Remember, a vacation is what you take when you can’t take what you’ve been taking any longer. I hope you have a good one in 2010!
Nancy Schuman is a vice president at Lloyd Staffing, headquartered in Melville, and is the author of eight how-to books on career guidance and job-search techniques. Lloyd Staffing offers temporary, contract and full-time employment services on a regional and national basis. Send your career-related questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.