Employees are avoiding taking vacation during the pandemic. As leaders we need to address the behaviors behind this phenomenon to avoid burnout and an end-of-year rush.
Just when you thought you’d seen enough hoarding and panic buying for one lifetime, having witnessed store shelves devoid of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, face masks, lumber, and even coins, another hoarding epidemic is sweeping many organizations: vacation hoarding. While there are few reliable statistics on how workers use their vacation time, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that 73% of US workers have access to paid vacation time, and anecdotally, according to a recent article, many of them are refusing to use that vacation time.
SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)
I’ve certainly been guilty of this phenomenon; despite a rather generous amount of paid vacation time, I’ve used very little of what I’ve been allocated. Like many workers, a significant portion of my vacation time each year is “use it or lose it,” in that any unused time disappears without any monetary equivalent. Like many workers, the uncertainty of the current environment had me banking days for reasons that ranged from hopes that the economy would reopen and cancelled vacations could be taken, to concerns about my family or me getting sick and requiring vacation time for recovery.
Isn’t unused vacation a good thing?
It’s easy to take a cynical view that employees not using their vacation, especially under a “use it or lose it” regime, is a good thing for the overall company. Vacation time is essentially a cash equivalent, where the company continues to pay workers despite the fact that they’re not working, and unused vacation is akin to employees willingly returning a percentage of their paycheck each month. However, there are two potential problems with employees hoarding their vacation hours.
First, a significant motivation for providing employees with paid vacation time is preventing burnout at work. Time away from the office can do wonders to reinvigorate employees during “normal” times, and these days the ability to recharge is even more important. This is doubly concerning since should conditions improve, there could be an explosion of economic activity in early 2021. If your company is full of employees operating in a zombie-like state due to mental and physical exhaustion just as the phones start ringing and you need their focus most, you run the risk of adding missed opportunity to the damage already wrought by COVID-19.
SEE: How companies are getting employees to take vacation this summer rather than hoard PTO (TechRepublic)
Secondly, at most organizations that reset the “vacation clock” on a calendar-year basis, you run the risk of a vacation rush at the end of the year. Employees who have been delaying plans may suddenly book that time away from the office, leaving you with a year end brain drain and skeleton staff. If the remaining staff are already suffering from burnout, asking them to pick up the work of their vacationing colleagues