Are you one of the 52% of American workers who leaves vacation time unused? Yes? You’re not alone. It’s an epidemic amounting to 708 million unclaimed vacation days each year.
We get it: there’s always more work to be done. The pressure to meet goals can be intense, as can the concern that our absence will create more work for others while were gone, and an unbearable pile-up when we return.
But research and experience say taking time off may be the absolute best thing you can do for yourself, and your company. In fact, it’s so important, companies should require (or at least strongly suggest) employees to use their vacation time. There are three immediate benefits:
It’s a good way to develop leaders within your company;
It’s a good way to spot potential trouble spots before they become a crisis; and
It’s incredibly good for the mental and physical health of your team members.
Let’s take those benefits one at a time.
It’s a good way to develop leaders:
When senior leaders go on vacation, it gives high potential team members a chance to develop their leadership muscles. Senior leaders can make this learning possible by teeing-up an interim leader to sit in on higher level meetings, make decisions, and keep the ship afloat. This is an opportunity to express trust in an emerging leader and give them a peak behind the curtain of the next level of leadership.
When Amber was a new manager, her boss planned an extended international trip and left her as the interim director for his much larger team. He’d not even landed in Africa before Amber was over her head with a significant challenge. It took a lot of effort, but she eventually figured it out and learned a lot about leadership along the way.
Leaders who take vacation time are expressing trust in their people. They’re empowering team members to make decisions independently, which helps develop leadership capacity overall.
Tom*, a financial analyst, always thought his company’s mandatory vacation policy was a little over the top. Sure, companies should give employees adequate vacation time. But force them to take it? That seemed too much – especially since the company locked the vacationing employee’s email account while he or she was absent.
One summer, a colleague took his mandatory time away. In his absence, Tom and his co-workers made a discovery: their trusted colleague was actively engaged in unethical financial behavior that only became evident because the vacationing colleague wasn’t able to manipulate the digital records.
This is an extreme example, but you get the point: when key players step away from work, we can find the gaps that exist in our processes before they become a crisis.
You can imagine much more benign circumstances, like team members who need a colleague to be trained as a backup for their responsibilities. Is Jane the only one who knows how to service a major account? Does anyone but Bruce know how to handle questions from senior leadership? Can anyone but Peter put the cover sheet on the TPS reports? When your MVPs take vacation time, it gives you a built-in reason to make sure your back-up processes are up-to-date.