Help Employees Unplug — It Can Boost Productivity

Remember the good old days when people went on vacation and returned to work refreshed, relaxed, sometimes even a little tan? Today, when employees go on vacation, work goes along with them as an uninvited guest. Get this: 58 percent of workers receive no stress relief from their vacations, and 27.3 percent felt even more stressed after their vacations, according to a recent survey by leadership development and training firm Fierce Inc.

Effective vacation policies are essential for employees because it allows them to disconnect from the office and recharge their batteries. These days employees are working longer hours, bringing work home and severely limiting time for relaxation, inevitably increasing stress and impacting performance. Forward-thinking organizations are proactively exploring ways to make PTO work harder for their employees.

As a point of comparison, European companies already realize the importance of disconnecting from the workplace. Not only do European workers receive more days off per year, they get paid to vacation as well. A recent Bloomberg Businessweek article noted that 40 percent of American workers — more than 55 million people — don’t receive any pay when taking vacation or sick days, yet Austria, for example, guarantees as many as 43 paid days off per year, and German workers can take as many as 40 days.

Here are some tips for employers to ensure that employees make the most of their time off and return refreshed and recharged.

Make sure employees are unplugged while on vacation. A vacation just isn’t the same when employees feel the need to constantly be accessible and available. Some employees — 6.5 percent of the survey respondents — actually checked in multiple times per day while on vacation. Employers can help alleviate any guilt they may feel by assuring them they’ll more effective and productive when they return if they actually take the time to completely unwind.

Teach employees to delegate. Relaxing vacations do indeed require an investment. To confidently disconnect from work and enjoy a stress-free vacation, employees must invest time and energy into proper delegation. Delegation builds strong teams, teaches new skills and in turn builds strong organizations.

Discuss PTO policies with staff. While 80 percent of respondents to the aforementioned survey desired more than 20 days of PTO per year, 46.7 percent receive 20 days or less. Yet a whopping 83.4 percent of these people have never discussed PTO policies with their employers. Opening lines of communication between staff and management is a valuable first step. It’s important to ascertain what is important to employees in terms of vacation, and foster candid conversations about the issue. Managers can consider a yearly internal survey to assess whether or not current PTO policies are meeting employees’ needs. A middle ground can be reached, but only when both sides sit down and gain an understanding of each other’s perspectives.

Review and evaluate the policy regularly. PTO is a policy, one of many which can and should be regularly evaluated and sometimes changed. Organizations that are open to conversations with their employees regarding PTO policies are the ones that will increase engagement and foster cultures of learning, ultimately becoming more competitive.

Halley Bock is the president & CEO of Fierce Inc., a leadership development and training firm. She can be reached at