Let’s face it: working too much is an epidemic. Stringing along that 9 to 5 day job into the early hours of the evening or even late at night is contributing to higher stress levels in the work place and at home. As a way to fix that, Project: Time Off was launched to encourage employees to use up their vacation time.

Jan. 30 is National Plan For Vacation Day, the perfect time to stop and take a minute to think about taking a vacation, and budget your time off accordingly. Americans say vacation time is one of the most important benefits given to them by their employers, yet more than 662 million vacation days were left on the table last year. In fact, 93 percent of workers say time off is important, but only 59 percent of employees actually took advantage of vacation time. Senior business leaders echo this sentiment: 91 percent believe employees return from vacation recharged and renewed.

In Kansas, a state in the top 10 of states with the worst vacation usage, 64 percent of workers are not using up their available vacation, leaving 5,779,310 unused vacation days. So, what’s stopping workers from using their vacation time and what can employers do to encourage vacation time usage?

Excuses, Excuses
Fear is a driving force as to why more than half of Americans aren’t using up their vacation days. From the fear of missing out on something big at work to being worried about returning to a mountain of work, the excuses are endless.

Many cite pressures within the job to perform, the fear nobody can complete the job while the person is out, or a fear of being replaced while on vacation. While valid reasons for being worried, employers should encourage their workers to take the time off free from these fears.

Being overworked can lead to higher stress levels and employee burnout, both of which are negative for productivity. Statistically speaking, 72 percent of managers say employees are more likely to put in longer hours when it matters after having and using up vacation time.

When a person is rested and takes a break from the routine of work, they return with higher levels of happiness and clarity. Usually, that positive attitude rubs off on other employees, boosting morale. Supervisors can have a hand in encouraging employees to take a break for the benefit of the whole team.

By the Numbers
Once employees are encouraged to take time off, they should also be encouraged to unplug from the office remotely. Seventy-eight percent of workers have said they’d like to have access to work while on vacation if they so choose. About 46 percent of vacationers often check in, opposed to the 27 percent who actually unplug.

Not surprisingly, 10 percent of those who do not unplug while on vacation use less vacation time than those who unplug. Here’s the kicker: 40 percent of employees who work in cultures that do not support unplugging say they are looking or planning to look for a new job in the next year.

While many workers say they don’t want to let down their boss by taking time off, it’s scientifically proven that a recuperation period is what American workers need.

Steps Employers Can Take
So how do employers increase retention and encourage their employees to unplug? There are a several ways this can be done:
• Email detox: pointing people to someone else and suggesting they reconnect upon return.
• Adopting an “unplugged” attitude while on vacation and making a conscious effort not to check email or work on projects.
• Providing a set week or two of time off for employees where offices are closed and employees are forced to unplug because they lack access to email servers or Wi-Fi (companies like TED do this for two weeks a year).
• Have a conversation about vacation time. While 91 percent of manager says they encourage time off, only about 43 percent actually talk to their employees about it.

The Power of Planning Ahead
In addition to the ways employers can encourage vacation time usage, one step we can all take is to plan ahead. According to the Project: Time Off study, individuals who plan are more likely to use all of their time off, take more vacation days at once, and report greater levels of happiness at work and at home.

“Planning out vacation for the year is an easy step we can all take; all you need is a calendar and a little inspiration,” said Cait DeBaun, director of communications for Project: Time Off.

A majority (52 percent) of workers who say they set aside time each year to plan out their vacation days take all their time off, compared to just 40 percent of non-planners.

“If people start thinking about their vacation time now, that could make a big difference,” said Susie Santo, president and CEO of Visit Wichita. “This National Plan for Vacation Day, schedule time to plan your vacation. Whether the plan is to stay in the area or to travel to places far away, it’s important to take the time you’ve earned to recharge.”

For more information on the Project: Time Off study, visit www.projecttimeoff.com.

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About Visit Wichita
Visit Wichita markets the greater Wichita area as a major convention and tourism destination, thereby enhancing the economic development of the city, county, region and state. Visit Wichita is led by president and CEO Susie Santo, and in 2016 travel and tourism contributed more than $1 billion in economic impact to the greater Wichita area.