HRA Blog

The Workplace Impact of 400 Million Wasted Vacation Days

Written by Mary Lake on .

By now I’m sure that you’ve seen the MasterCard commercial loaded with cute kids chanting “One more day!” These adorable kids are bringing to our attention that an estimated 400 million vacation days go unused in America every year.  This is an astounding and disturbing number that is certain to have a negative impact on the work/life balance of many American workers.

Not only are Americans not taking advantage of their paid vacation time, according to a survey done by TeamViewer, a leading provider of remote control and online meeting software, 61 percent of Americans planning a vacation intend to work during their vacation time.

Some of you may be thinking what a benefit these dedicated employees are to your organization. Unfortunately, studies have proven that this is not the case.   In fact, in 2009 the National Academy of Sciences found that chronic stress may actually shrink your brain, as well as contribute to overall feelings of irritability, depression and continually feeling unfocused.  However, annual vacations have been found to cut the risk of heart attack by 30% in men and 50% in women, while also benefiting sleep patterns and connectivity to loved ones.   It has also been proven that employees who are well rested are more productive in the workplace.

While the importance of vacation seems clear, many organizations only allow employees to carry over a specified number of vacation days per year.  They also limit the number of days that an employee can keep in a vacation bank.  It then becomes a “use it or lose it situation.”

In one extreme example, a client of ours found themselves with an employee who had reached his limit of “bankable” vacation time.  In October, he was informed that he had approximately 30 vacation days that he needed to use before the end of the year or he would lose them. Because of his workload and responsibilities, he took a combination of a long vacation and a few days off a week.  Unfortunately, his frequent and extended absences during such a short period of time caused a level of undue stress on both the organization and his coworkers.

As an employer, do you need to encourage (or perhaps even insist) that employees take advantage of their unused vacation time?

Here are a few ideas that may help you to encourage your non-vacationing employees to take time off to recharge and improve productivity.

  1. Help your employees understand that you are concerned for their well-being.  Share with them studies that show the benefits, both personal and professional of employees taking vacation.
  2. Institute an Employee Purchase Program that offers payroll deductions for vacation destinations so that employees can plan and save for a vacation throughout the year.
  3. Encourage employees to share their vacation experiences on the company intranet or bulletin board so that others can see the advantages of taking time off.
  4. Research and share local “get-away” opportunities on the company intranet or bulletin board that may include coupons or special rates for the organization.
  5. Model the importance of utilizing vacation by management or leadership taking their own vacations and disconnecting from work while they are gone.

Productive employees are one of the greatest assets of any organization.  Ensuring that your employees take advantage of the opportunity to relax and recharge makes not only compassionate sense for your employees, but also good business sense for the success of the organization.


The Silver Tsunami Is Coming – Really

Written by Barbara Irwin on .

A lot of my family, including myself, lived in Florida over the past 20 years. It’s the land of white sandy beaches, Mickey Mouse, orange juice and snowbirds! Every year after Thanksgiving, retirees would load up their Mercury Grand Marquis, hang their clothing from a rod in the back seat and begin their journey southward on I-95 to their winter homes in the warm recesses of Florida.

Honestly, it’s like clockwork. We who lived in Florida knew these retirees were coming and would plan accordingly. We’d know to avoid restaurants between 4-6:30pm, abandon all morning tee times and add an additional 30 minutes to our work commutes to deal with the inevitable slow driving in the left lane.

As a Baby Boomer and one of those individuals who will eventually decide to leave the workforce in the next decade, I might be perceived as one of those individuals who migrates to a warmer climate and causes traffic jams and long waits at restaurants. This caused me to ponder about the inevitable onslaught of employees that will exit the workforce and how organizations are planning accordingly.

Exit you say? The announcement two weeks ago that the U.S. jobless rate fell below six percent for the first time since 2007 really indicates that while it’s not a booming recovery, the economy is finally recovering nonetheless.

Collectively in the HR field, we’ve been discussing for years how the Baby Boomer generation was delaying retirement due to the uncertainty of the economy. In addition to the economic reasons, employees have stated that they haven’t wanted to leave the workforce for other various reasons such as keeping mentally challenged or being passionate about their profession. There has been a lot of discussion on how organizations needed to begin preparing for these employees’ inevitable departure.

A  study that was completed by the IPMA-HR found that 40 percent of federal government HR professionals expect to lose 20 percent of their workforce over the next five years. So, if I am calculating this correctly, it means that out of the approximately three million federal employees, nearly 600,000 people plan to retire from the federal workforce over the next five years – and that’s just the federal government!

Let that number sink in for a second. 600,000 people equals the population of Boston. It’s no wonder that Mike Ettling, Global Head of HR from SAP who was one of the organizers of the Workforce 2020 study called it the workforce cliff.

So, what are we doing to keep the historical knowledge held by the future retiring workforce in our organizations? Apparently not enough. The same IPMA-HR study also pointed out that only 27 percent of those organizations had a succession plan for their employees in place.

It would behoove organizations to look long and hard at their current knowledge transfer, retention and transition plans and determine if they are capturing the relevant and pertinent information from this pending retiring generation.

Some key questions that organizations should be asking themselves include:

  • Are we capturing the right information needed from these employees?
  • How are we transferring this knowledge from one employee to another, without the seasoned professional feeling pushed out?
  • Are we offering part-time opportunities for individuals who want to ‘semi-retire,’ but are not quite ready for the full-scale ‘sunny Florida’ experience?
  • Is it enough so that those that take their place are effective at their jobs?
  • Does our current teams clearly understand their roles in this transition?

Answering these questions will serve as a useful check in to see where your organization is in preparing for this workforce transition. However, I would recommend that instead of simply asking how can we transfer knowledge from the retiring generation to that next generation, that organizations should holistically reexamine your knowledge transfer practices.

I think that organizations need to institute a culture of learning from the bottom up to meet the knowledge gap needs of the five generations that exist within the workforce.

The Workforce 2020 study that is mentioned above identifies three key points that I believe is relevant to our discussion of changing the model of knowledge transfer. Millennials are misunderstood, the Talent Gap is Widening and Leadership is Lacking.

All three of these key points could be mitigated by instituting a bottom up learning culture. From the entry-level employee who probably understands the latest and greatest in social media, all the way through an organization to executives and the soon to be retirees. Implementing these processes will encumber a workforce that learns from the generation before them and in turn teaches the generation after them.

This creates a smooth continuous transfer of knowledge and skillsets, ultimately developing a workforce prepared for the generation ahead of them to retire, be promoted or move on to other opportunities.

This doesn’t require a lot of capital investment, just an investment in the will to collectively learn from your employees so that they can learn from each other.  This type of learning environment mitigates many of the issues called out in the Workforce 2020 study. It can be a huge motivator for employees and creates a practice to not only retain knowledge, but retain employees as well.

So when you’re evaluating whether or not your organization is prepared for this departure of this workforce generation, ask yourself if this is the opportunity to make a cultural change in the way your organization focuses on knowledge transfer. And, for all of you that are reading this blog from sunny Florida, my sincerest sympathies. The silver tsunami is on its way, and there’s nothing that you can do about it.