How Taking Time Off is Good for Employee Engagement


It’s officially summer!  As vacation season kicks off, it is a good time for HR teams to encourage the value of taking a break.  As we all know, vacations are important for emotional and physical health of employees.  In fact, studies show that they build a far more engaged, happy, and productive workforce.

Unlike other developed countries, the United States has no mandated number of days off for employees. A quarter of Americans have no paid vacations at all. This has an impact on wellness. 

A 2017 CareerBuilder survey revealed that 61 percent of workers self-identified as burned out in their current job. Of those workers, 31 percent reported high or extremely high levels of stress at work. A third of all workers said they had no plans to take a vacation that year.

Why People Don’t Take Time Off

A survey from Project Time Off in 2017 reveals a key reason why people are avoiding vacations: they think it makes them look like a less committed worker. Thirty eight percent of employees wanted their boss to see them as  as “a work martyr”. Yet, according to the report those four-in-ten employees do not understand work martyrdom does not necessarily advance their careers.  In fact, it may be hurting them.

“These self-proclaimed work martyrs are less likely (79 to 84 percent) to report receiving a raise or bonus in the last three years than those who do not subscribe to the work martyr myth. When it comes to promotions, they are no more likely to have received a promotion in the last year than the average worker (28 percent). This shows that the work martyr attitude is not helping anyone get ahead.”

Melinda Gates addressed this topic in her first LinkedIn post after Microsite acquired the platform in 2017 — pointing out how this workaholic culture can be particularly damaging for women. “The American workweek has soared from less than 40 hours to nearly 50 in the time since that issue of Fortune was published,” she wrote. “Technology has made it harder to pull away from our jobs, and easier to wonder whether a night off or a long weekend is damaging our careers.

Benefits of Summer Vacation

New data from a O.C. Tanner survey shows a clear correlation between those who take regular vacations and their overall emotional health and happiness on the job.

Sixty six percent of respondents said they take vacations at least one week or longer during the summer months. Nearly the same percentage (67 percent) said it is somewhat or extremely important for them to do so. This is what they then found in the regular vacationers:

  • Dedication to the Job: 70 percent of respondents say they are highly motivated to contribute to the success of the organization, as opposed to only 55 percent of respondents who do not regularly take a week-long summer vacation.
  • A Sense of Belonging: 63 percent of respondents say they feel a sense of belonging at the company where they currently work, as opposed to only 43 percent of respondents who do not regularly take a week-long summer vacation.
  • Loyalty: 65 percent of respondents say they have a strong desire to be working for their organization one year from now, as opposed to 51 percent of respondents who do not regularly take a week-long summer vacation.
  • Viewed as a Good Employer: 65 percent of respondents say their organization has a reputation for being a good employer whose people do great work, as opposed to just 46 percent of respondents who do not regularly take a week-long summer vacation.

In another example discussed in Harvard Business Review, one company implemented a mandatory week off once every seven weeks for all staff. The result? “Creativity went up 33 percent, happiness levels rose 25 percent, and productivity increased 13 percent.” The company concluded that once every seven weeks was perhaps excessive, but nonetheless the sheer productivity and creativity that came from having a rested and recharged workforce benefited the entire organization.

So the next time you hear a manager complain about a worker requesting a vacation, show them the data. And if you haven’t already, now is the time to be instituting a positive and proactive vacation policy.