Does Your Vacation Policy Work?

I’m always curious to hear of innovative (or, crazy, depending on one’s viewpoint) methods of increasing employee engagement and productivity.  I wrote about a year ago about a company in Seattle where the CEO increased the minimum wage to $70,000 (and they are still doing just fine).  And there are some companies that provide a time-and-a-half incentive to employees to take vacation.  One company upped the vacation incentive ante with paid for trips for up to one week.

What is with bribing people to go on vacation?  And, besides getting people to take some time off, do these ideas even work?
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There is some data that suggests that more vacation time makes executives more efficient.  Though, this might be because they have to get the same amount of work done in less time.  And there is plenty of studies that show that work breaks during the day help productivity.

My feeling (and I have zero data to back this up) is that another benefit of vacation time is that is allows us to come back with, if not a new perspective, at least a chance to look at a problem fresh, without only looking at previous solutions.  Think about how a crossword puzzle clue may have had you baffled at first, but then becomes easy after you spent time away from it.

Assuming that the above is at least partially true, it seems to me that having frequent time away may be as beneficial as long vacations.  Regardless, the key idea that in the long run we are more engaged and productive when we do not stare at the same problems.

Sure, at the end of January people are not spending that much time planning vacations (well, maybe skiers are).  But, this is when HR should be considering the impact of current paid time off policies, such as:

  • Does management support people taking time off by altering their workload pre-post vacation?
  • If you are in a work culture that does not support taking time off, do you understand why they are not?  Are you offering incentives for people to do so?
  • Are employees who are not taking their time off counseled so that they do so?

Yes, it seems odd to have to manage the vacation process.  But, like any other engagement and productivity tool, it does need to be monitored and cared for.

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