Want to Increase Productivity at Work? Try a Vacation.

Economist John Maynard Keynes predicted a 15-hour workweek would become standard in the 21st century, and he wasn’t alone. Experts of yesteryear thought the workweek would get shorter and shorter as time went on. Because of advanced technologies and increased productivity, he expected that Americans would not need to spend as much time at work. Experts theorized that Americans would be confronted with an abundance of free time that they’d need to figure out how to use. That turned out not to be true. Not only that, but Americans, in particular, chose a different path and became hyper-focused on work. In the words of Derek Thompson, “…Americans worship workism.” Only now is the pendulum starting to swing back as younger generations enter the workforce questioning the work-centric lives that their predecessors have been leading.

Only 20% of millennials would want to advance their career if it means losing family or personal time.

Will this impact my career trajectory? How will I make sure all my work gets finished? Is this a good time to take off? Will my coworkers be mad that I’m leaving them in the lurch?

And if you’re an employer, it can feel like a huge challenge to manage the unpredictable nature of workers choosing to use their time away. How will you ever get anything accomplished now? Don’t they know that you need them? How can you let them go without hurting your bottom line?

And while these concerns may not be communicated directly to employees, they often feel silent pressure not to take their time away from work: “55% of workers left some of their vacation days unused in 2018”. Your employees may see not taking time off as a way to show dedication to the company or show up coworkers to be first in line for a potential promotion.

While time-off hesitancy may seem like a good thing for your business and managing away time is undoubtedly a burden, employee time off is crucial for the success of any company.  


Because when employees take time off, they return more well-rested, more productive, and healthier than when they left.

In addition to having more productive employees, you may have a hard time attracting employees if you don’t have a generous time-off policy. With attitudes around work shifting, younger employees won’t want to work for you if you’re stingy with vacation days. And in today’s job market, if they don’t like your policy— they can go work somewhere else. A fringe benefit is that more frequent vacations have also been linked to a longer life expectancy.

Remote work makes time off even more important

The pandemic brought with it an unprecedented move to remote work— which helped employees in some ways and hurt in others. It increasingly blurred the line between work time and home time and vacation time may be at risk.

Our workspaces are not necessarily tied to any particular physical location anymore. And while that does bring with it some benefits, some challenges emerge as well. There’s a pressure to always be available. Since your employer can’t see when you’re working or being productive, you want to always be “on call” to answer them when they do reach out— whether that’s on your lunch break or after you’ve just shut your computer for the day.

When you and your computer are in your living room, instead of an office or more traditional workspace- it gets harder and harder not to log in to just send off a quick email or schedule that meeting. But that can quickly spiral into you catching up on work when you might usually be relaxing. Very quickly your rest and recovery time has turned into just more work.

So how can you encourage employees to take time off? And we mean REALLY take time off.

Show, Don’t Tell:

Leading by example may be the best way to nudge employees in the direction of taking time off when needed. If managers’ attitudes around work are unhealthy, how can they expect employees to have healthy attitudes around taking time off? If you never take a day away from work, employees will internalize that as the expected behavior. Setting visible boundaries between your work life and your home life can encourage your employees to do the same. Set an example by clearing your schedule for an hour every day or taking some time on a Friday afternoon. This will show employees that they can have those boundaries in their lives too and they won’t be penalized for it. When you are on vacation don’t respond to any work-related messages, show employees it’s okay to disconnect when they’re taking their time off.


Talk with your employees and make a plan for how you will handle their workload while they are away. This can help everyone involved feel more comfortable. If your employee knows they won’t be leaving you or their coworkers in the lurch, they may not feel the same guilt and anxiety they would otherwise. It can also help everyone else in your company feel confident that they’ll be able to handle the extra work.

Be Transparent:

Be clear about how much time your employees have to take off and your expectations surrounding this time. If you have a written policy that emphasizes total disconnection from work on vacation time, your employees will be more likely to do it. When you offer time-off, expect that employees will take all of the time allotted to them.  

Vacation time and time away from work are more important than ever. Again and again, it has been shown to increase productivity and improve workers’ energy and outlook.  So as the holiday season begins, please consider how to reinforce that taking a healthy amount of time off is part of your company’s culture.

It helps employees be more productive, happier, and healthier overall! And a good time off policy doesn’t hurt to attract top-tier candidates either.

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