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Managing Staff Time Off

Productivity: Why Time Off is Good for Business

Managing Staff Time Off

As companies get leaner and are forced to do more with less resources, squeezing the most productivity out of the workforce will be key. This presents a challenge for many organizations because today’s average employee is already working harder than ever before.

The typical North American worker puts in more hours than our ancestors did in the 1920s when farming was the number one occupation1. And the work week doesn’t promise to lighten up anytime soon.

Sixty two percent of people surveyed in a New York Times poll said their workloads had increased in the past six months, and 52% said their work left them overtired and overwhelmed. 2

The question that begs to be asked is all that overtime paying off? Are workers as productive as their employers would like them to be?

Many factors affect productivity – from implementing the best policies and processes for getting a job done right to hiring the most qualified employees and equipping them with the right training and tools. Equally important is the need to keep employees motivated, happy and healthy – all factors that are positively impacted when people take time off.

Studies show that taking a vacation or regular time off helps to reduce stress and prevent burnout. It also reduces the risk of heart attacks in men by 50% and in women by 30% 3.

In a 2006 Expedia survey, four out of five people polled said they felt better equipped to handle work challenges after they took time off, while 80% said they returned to work with a more positive attitude.

Another benefit of down time is that it promotes creativity. According to New York-based psychiatrist and partner in management consultant Roger Brunswick, time and space is needed for new ideas to emerge.

“It takes several days just to unwind and begin to get to a place where you’re using different parts of your brain than when you’re tethered to email, negotiating deals or worrying about next quarter’s results,” says Brunswick 4.

But despite the plus side of good old fashioned R&R, employers are offering less paid vacation benefits – and workers are voluntarily taking less time off.

According to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, paid vacation time dropped in 2004 to 68% down from 87% the previous year. The probable reason for the decrease, according to Tom Casey, a principal at Mellon Human Resources and Investment Solutions, is that employers are trying to get more productivity from their workforce and limiting vacations is one way of doing it 5.

More alarming is that one in 10 workers take less time off than they are entitled to and leave as much as four vacation days unclaimed per year, reported the Washington Post 6.

Common reasons range from workers feeling guilty for taking time off and leaving co-workers with their workload, to younger workers wanting to make a good impression on their bosses. Many workers also put in the extra hours in order to climb the corporate ladder faster or because their workloads simply don’t allow them to take time off.

When employees do manage to get away, they are increasingly bringing their work with them. Cell phones, laptops, Blackberrys and a whole slew of other mobile technologies are enabling workers to maintain 24/7 connectivity with the office from anywhere in the world – even their vacation homes. Computer network installer John Charde of East Hampton, NY says vacation homes account for 40% of his business 7.

Without the ability to physically and mentally disconnect from the office creates a vicious circle in which workers have less energy and stamina to handle their heavy workload thereby creating added work-related stress.

The Better Sleep Council of Canada reported that 30% of Canadians suffer from sleepless nights due to work-related stress and that 1/3 of those surveyed claimed that they were unable to fall asleep at least one night a week 8.

Our bodies need seven to eight hours of sleep per day according to “The Benefits of the Power Nap” 8. Six hours or less triples our risk of a car accident.

Sleep is cumulative, explains the article. If you lose sleep one day, you feel it the next. If you miss adequate sleep several days in a row, you build up a sleep deficit which impairs reaction time, judgment, vision, information processing, performance, motivation and patience, amongst other things.

Cultures and companies that encourage employees to take time off to rejuvenate are seeing measurable improvements in worker productivity.

European countries, for example, mandate a minimum of four weeks vacation per year compared to two weeks in North America. Yet Europe has surpassed the U.S. in growing its productivity year over year for 14 of the 19 years between 1981 and 2000 according to the U.S. Federal Reserve.

On this side of the pond, more than 50% of executives surveyed by SmartPro recognized that employees are more productive after a vacation than before one 9. Moving to a three-week vacation plan was directly responsible for increasing company profits by 15% according to the owner of Janfoa, a Cincinnati janitorial services firm that employs 468 workers 10.

Eileen Smith of Courier-Post Online sums it up the best in her article “Don’t feel guilty about taking a vacation – it’s good for productivity”:

“The truth is time is not only money – it is the fabric of your one and only life. Vacation times are good for workers and good for employers, who prosper by having employees who are happier, more productive and less likely to make mistakes 10.”


  • 1, 3, 6 Don’t Feel Guilty About Taking a Vacation – It’s Good for Productivity, by Eileen Smith, Courier-Post Staff, HR.com
  • 2, 5 Workplaces Try to Increase Productivity By Dropping Vacations, by Jeanie Croasmun, Ergoweb.com
  • 4 CEO’s Plan for Long Vacation Stirs Fuss Because It’s Rare, by Carol Hymowitz, Wall Street Journal Online
  • 7 The Importance of Vacations for Stress Relieve, Productivity and Health, by Elizabeth Scott, M.S., About.com
  • 8 The Benefits of the Power Nap, by Elizabeth Scott, M.S., About.com
  • 9 Vacations Improve Staff Productivity, SmartPros.com
  • 10 How to Best Institute Vacation Plans, by Curt Finch, HR.com