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Rest, Recharge & Thrive: How to build a vacation-friendly workplace culture

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We're into the dog days of summer and vacation season. Hopefully, you've had a steady rotation of people taking the opportunity to get away from work for a while, and if they haven't, it's because they were off earlier or plan to be off later in the year.
If that's not the case, and employees aren't taking their allotted vacation time, you may need to take action.
On top of the stress of taking time off, many people feel the financial pinch of high inflation and interest rates. Employees who might once have jumped at the chance to get away instead choose to stay put and keep pushing through.
It's natural and necessary to rest and recharge even when we feel positive and energized by our work. When work is stressful and draining, taking a break becomes critical. 
Presenteeism and the inability to disconnect can lead to stress, anxiety, frustration, anger, burnout, and depression. These behaviours diminish an individual's work experience, resilience, productivity and creativity.

Is there a "vacation tax" in your workplace?

Only three in ten Canadian employees are taking vacation, a steep drop from 2019 figures. And, even if they do schedule time away from work, they're not shutting down completely. Another study conducted by elvtr found that only one in four employees shut down on vacation. 
This HR Reporter article outlines the concept of vacation tax – the time employees must put in before and after a vacation to compensate for a well-earned holiday. The most recent estimate is 20 hours – an improvement over previous years but still a massive chunk of time. 

Fear and implicit expectations foster unhealthy behaviours

Many of us have had the experience of accepting a job based on the promise of a healthy amount of vacation time, only to discover that actually taking time off is frowned upon.

Fearful of being discounted, overlooked or causing issues because they weren't there when colleagues needed them, employees in these organizations often choose to forfeit time off and, in doing so, compromise their mental and physical health.

Nearly 60% of respondents in the elvtr survey said they feel anxious if they don't check their work emails while on vacation, and 35% said they feel an implicit expectation to work while they are away.

Make it safe for employees to take time off

The value you place on relaxation has a direct impact on employee behaviour. We have an opportunity to create the right conditions to encourage healthy behaviours and quell fears about being away from work.

Model the behaviour you want to see. Ensure you and other leaders take vacation time and talk to employees about the importance of recharging. If you make it clear that you expect employees to take time off, you will build trust and ease their fear of repercussions.

Give employees peace of mind. Minimize "vacation tax" by ensuring the proper policies and processes are in place to make it less of a burden and give employees peace of mind that they will not pay the price for taking time off before they leave, during their vacation, and when they return.

Make sure people disconnect. The "Right to Disconnect" policy in Ontario's Employment Standards Act protects employees' mental health and well-being. It ensures employees do not feel obligated to work outside business hours, including reviewing and responding to emails. 

[For more tips, see How Taking Vacation Can Increase Productivity and Job Satisfaction]

Help your team learn how to relax

In the post "Do Your Employees Feel Relaxed?" Milena Braticevic PhD notes, "The ability to relax is like a muscle that needs to be exercised every day. Because of neuroplasticity, if we are used to experiencing stress, the neural connections associated with stress will be more accessible and it will be difficult to relax."

However, she says that in healthy work environments where time for relaxation and rejuvenation is valued and expected, employees are better able to cope and remain calm in stressful situations.

She encourages leaders to consider three questions:

  • How much value do we place on relaxation in our organization?

  • Are we doing enough to ensure our workers can recover from stress?

  • Do we believe that a culture of relaxation can benefit our people personally and professionally? 

Great things happen when employees take vacation

Lin Manuel Miranda proves that time away from work can spur great things. The creator of the multi-award-winning musical Hamilton says, "It's no accident that the best idea I've ever had in my life – perhaps the best one I'll ever have in my life – came to me on vacation."

Making relaxation a priority and letting employees know it is safe to rest and recharge will improve their physical and mental health, and they are more likely to return with renewed energy, greater productivity and creative ideas that will help boost business results.

Get to know the author – Fresh Communications