How to Promote Happiness: Change the Clocks to Vacation Time


We've all heard that money can't buy happiness, but can vacation time? And how can knowing the answer to that help you better manage your finance staff and your own performance, whether you’re a first-time or senior manager?

An Expedia study on vacation deprivation shows that American workers receive 15 vacation days, on average, which they typically don't use up. Compare that to Europe, where the average vacation is 28 days, and to many other countries, where workers are offered 30 days.

Worry about work not getting done

How Americans take vacation time is also a potential concern. Rather than taking a longer holiday, 60 percent of workers use vacation days in small batches for long weekends and short trips. What's more, according to a new Robert Half "Vacation Vexation" survey of more than 1,000 workers, they're worried about the work that doesn't get done when they're away. Here are some of their responses:

  • 41 percent have not taken a vacation or have taken fewer days off because they were concerned about the amount of work that would await them when they returned.
  • 35 percent took fewer or no days off because they worried about their colleagues absorbing their workload.
  • 41 percent admit to checking in with the office at least once or twice a week while on holiday.
  • 36 percent of employees ages 18 to 34 check in at least once or twice a day — perhaps a sign of the times for millennials who grew up more connected.

Of course, CFOS know how to solve those problems. In a Robert Half survey of CFOs and vacations, only 32 percent of them said they leave work behind and don't check in with the office while away.

Read more about why CFOs won't take a clean break from work to take a summer vacation, along with a five-step checklist for how they can unplug.

Everyone agrees: Vacation time is important

Despite country-to-country differences, attitudes about the importance of vacation time are consistent globally, the Expedia study reports. Fully 80 to 90 percent of polled workers declared that vacation time makes them happier, more relaxed, closer to their family and less stressed when they return home.

Although some workers can't afford to take vacation, unused holidays don't appear to be very heavily related to a focus on money. Reasons for leaving vacation days on the table vary, but the Expedia survey found that only 18 percent attributed it to not having enough money. Most of the top reasons involve time management and workload issues. Many workers, for example, say they don't take vacations because they know that they'll return to a backlog of work.

Vacations have value in the workplace

All of this has implications for you in your position as a manager. There are many reasons that vacation time is necessary for staff members, including recharging their energy, boosting their productivity and, to the point of the Expedia study, increasing their general happiness. Recognize that vacation time can be a great staff reward. It can also play a key part in landing top talent for your team when it comes to making an offer. Taking vacations can both prevent burnout and lead to increased innovation in the workplace.

But vacation time has to be used

But additional vacation days aren't enough. You need to make sure employees use their vacation time. You can ease your employees' concerns about work piling up while they’re gone by engaging a temporary professional to pick up their basic duties during their time off. This will not only give them incentive to take vacation but will also help keep the pace of work moving in the office and allay any concerns you may have as a manager that certain tasks cannot be addressed in your employee’s absence.

Bosses need to show how to take time off, too

Finally, consider your own situation. As Paul McDonald, senior executive director of Robert Half said in an interview, the best way to encourage your staff to take vacations is by setting the example and taking time off yourself. While it's not always possible to disconnect from work while on vacation, encouraging staff to do so — and doing so yourself — can greatly increase the refresh effect that is arguably the biggest benefit of time away.

Are you setting an example by taking time off on a regular and lengthy-enough basis? If not, perhaps it's time to start taking vacation more seriously.

If you’re an entry-level or senior manager, you might find our Management Advice page useful.

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Editor's note: This post was updated in 2016 to reflect more current information.