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Ask an HR Expert: Unused Time Off

What should HR do when workers don't use their vacation time?

Hat, sunglasses and sunscreen on the sand.

​Employers are rolling out unlimited leave policies and expanding paid vacation plans, yet many employees still don’t use their allotted time off.

Recent surveys indicate why. Workers worry that their manager won’t approve vacation time or that they’ll face an overwhelming workload when they return. Or they might be up for a promotion or working in a culture that discourages time off and worry about job security.

Still, most people agree that they would take vacation if they felt fully supported and encouraged by their boss.

To figure out why your employees are not taking time off, investigate by using a top-down approach. Review company culture, department management and jobs.

Informed company leaders understand that employees who take vacation are happier, more engaged, less stressed and healthier, and therefore less likely to quit.

Improved employee performance and well-being begins with a company culture that values vacation and encourages workers to take it. Companies may also want to:

  • Adopt a generous or unlimited vacation plan.
  • Establish a mandatory or minimum vacation policy requiring everyone to take a certain number of days off each year.
  • Provide spending money, subsidize travel expenses, or allow employees to use the company’s business relationships with travel agencies or rental car companies.
  • Contribute a percentage of worker pay in matching funds to an employee’s vacation savings account, or simply give a $100 prepaid gift card to use for vacation. The incentive does not have to be a huge amount of money to be viewed as valuable by employees.
  • Ensure that all employees take time off, and promote the practice. If company leaders never take vacation, they send the message that high performance and success is contingent on working all the time. Encourage time off at all levels in meetings and through internal communication platforms.
  • Don’t allow managers to create an environment where taking vacation can feel like a risk to career advancement or employment. Hold them accountable.
  • Take care of employees individually. Explain that paid time off is part of the total compensation package. If necessary, talk one-on-one about the need to take time off for vacation.

There’s no downside to taking a genuine interest in work/life balance. Workers will appreciate it, and the positive effects will last long after the employee’s vacation ends.

Victoria Neal, SHRM-SCP, is an HR Knowledge Advisor for SHRM.


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