When you have an employee who approaches new initiatives with enthusiasm, who happily offers support to others, and who seems to move effortlessly through the workplace on a cloud of positive energy, you can bet that’s an employee who uses their vacation time.
“Taking a vacation is not just about taking a break from work, it’s about taking a break from the grind—your routine and the inherent stress that comes with it,” says Amanda Gorman, a Health and Safety Consultant with WSPS. “When you take the vacation time that you’ve earned, you return to the workplace rejuvenated and better equipped to perform your job.”
According to Canadian HR Reporter, only 29% of Canadian workers used all their allotted vacation time in 2022. This statistic is concerning because we know that when employees do not take time for themselves away from work, it often leads to presenteeism and burnout. In contrast, when employees take vacation, the mental health benefits are clear.
“Researchers at Mayo Clinic have linked positive thinking to reduced stress,” explains Amanda. According to their research, when you reduce stress through positive thinking, you also reduce rates of depression, pain, and illness. “The positive thinking that comes with planning vacation time contributes to good mental health,” says Amanda. “And when you spend time away from your usual routine, you return recharged, refreshed, and focused.”
Create a culture where vacation is valued
There are many reasons why an employee may not use their vacation time, from heavy workloads to job security concerns. To avoid this, employers need to create a workplace culture where vacation time is genuinely encouraged and valued. “Vacation time is there for a reason,” reminds Amanda. “Employees should not feel guilty about using it. Taking a break from stress is very important to drop cortisol levels, which we know contributes to good physical and mental health.”
Amanda also points out that you don’t need to take an extended vacation to experience these benefits. If it’s not practical for you to be away for a full week, take one vacation day mid-week to break up your routine. A long weekend every now and then can be a good way to give yourself the time to disconnect. Amanda offers these tips to help employers leverage the benefits of a workforce that takes vacation.
1) Lead by example from the top. Most employees, especially new ones, look to their managers and co-workers to learn standard practices. When employees see their managers take regular vacation time, they know that they can do the same without repercussions. If employees see the opposite (e.g., co-workers not taking vacation or negative comments made about someone who does), they will take that as a cue to how the organization operates.
2) Plan for proper coverage. “Genuinely promoting vacation requires more than verbal encouragement,” explains Amanda. “Managers need to support their employees by ensuring that resources are in place for work to continue during an employee’s vacation,” she says. If employees find that they end up working long hours to catch up when they return from vacation, they will become reluctant to take time off.
3) Give permission to disconnect. Employees have a right to disconnect; however, some may still feel uncomfortable doing so if they see that it’s not something commonly done at their workplace. When you ensure that a plan is in place to cover responsibilities while an employee is on vacation, you are providing the support needed for them to truly disconnect.
4) Foster trust, so employees feel comfortable being away. Some employees may not like the idea of handing over their work to someone else, even for a short period of time. It could cause some anxiety around job security if they have had negative experiences in the past. Avoid this by creating a supportive work environment where employees feel valued, engaged, and part of the team.
How WSPS can help
Connect with a mental health consultant to learn more about creating psychologically safe workplaces.
Is your business looking to improve its psychological safety? Get started with the Mental Harm Prevention Roadmap. This site takes you step by step through the process of developing a psychologically safe workplace.
Quick Safety Tips: Workplace Psychological Safety - Watch these quick safety tips to find out what it means to have a psychologically safe workplace, the role of managers and supervisors, the positive outcomes on worker mental health and the workplace, and steps to get started.
Check out a variety of mental health and well-being resources to protect employees from mental harm.
Workplace Mental Health: What Health and Safety Committees Should Know (in-person or virtual classroom; 1 day)
Reducing Mental Health Stigma in the Workplace (eCourse; 30 minutes)
The information in this article is accurate as of its publication date.