Workforce Visibility

How Can Vacation Help Companies Get More Done?

Talent scarcity. We hear about it all the time. Can putting more value on non-work actually help companies mitigate the challenges of a talent shortage? Many signs point to “yes,” and employers are taking notice.

Woman speaking on a cell phone
Consider the talent issues. According to one
Allegis Group global trends report, 80 percent of employers have experienced challenges with acquiring critical talent due to changing global labor markets. In another Allegis Group report on workforce trends, HR leaders cited a number of core business issues arising from talent challenges, from increased costs (49 percent) and lower productivity (38 percent) to the limited achievement of business goals (33 percent) and a loss of revenue potential (27 percent). In other words, the inability to secure and retain talent impacts companies’ ability to do the very things that make them succeed: be productive, achieve goals, and make money.

At the same time, many workers find themselves hungering for more self-time, whether that involves traditional vacation or simply a more flexible workweek. According to a recent Allegis Group Pulse survey, 93 percent of workers say they would accept one job over another slightly higher paying job if it allowed more flexible work and time-off options. Twenty-nine percent would consider a one-fifth pay cut to work a four-day week instead of the traditional five.

When it comes to personal time, the gap between what workers want and what workers receive may present an opportunity for a smart employer to better attract and retain scarce talent. But in an age when work-life balance is often viewed as a quaint idea from 10 years ago, employers need to better examine what it takes to translate personal time into real value for their workers and for the business. In particular, employers can adjust their approach to workforce engagement in two ways to boost the time-off advantage, improve worker attraction and retention, and, in the process, reduce those talent-related obstacles to productivity and profitability.

Establish Job Flexibility

father and son working in kitchen

First, today’s smartest employers recognize that flexibility matters. The now cliché image of the worker sitting on a remote beach conducting business from a laptop may give job flexibility a bad name. In fact, today’s workers have several reasons for requiring something more flexible than a nine-to-five presence at the office, and it is usually much more pressing than a desire for luxury. 

For example, long commutes may be a deterrent for more tenured talent who want to stay in the workforce past retirement age. Childcare does not fit nine-to-five schedules for talent now balancing careers and parenthood. Newer entrants to the workforce may not want to be constrained by work schedules or vacation allotments at all, opting instead for freelance or contractor work, where accomplished goals and completed projects, not time at the desk, define work success. By being more open to a wider range of work options, and more flexible about a worker’s time, an employer can better connect with workers in nearly all of these situations.

For employers, the availability of both free time (vacation) and flexibility in how work gets done can make the difference between attracting and retaining high-value workers and never seeing them at all. And, with only 49 percent of surveyed organizations utilizing flexible scheduling and 40 percent using remote working, the opportunity for an employer to jump in front of the competition is still significant.

Instill a Supportive Culture

Employees giving each other a high five

The second key to success is ensuring that the organization has the culture to support its time-off flexibility. The same Allegis Group Pulse survey revealed that 50 percent of workers do not use all their allotted paid time off during a given year. The reasons for unused vacation vary, but they frequently stem from a culture where being overly busy is considered table stakes for gaining respect at work.

Companies are becoming more creative in their attempts to reshape that culture of overwork. In some cases, organizations have enforced time-off policies, requiring that employees take their allotted time off each year. It may be more practical, however, for companies to cultivate a culture that is more open to using vacation. To do this, leaders need to be setting the example, using and making visible the time that they take off. Likewise, management needs to develop a culture of openness in which workers have the means and the motivation to cover for their fellow workers when they take off. Finally, communication and socialization of time-off support are essential. In organizations that experience cyclical downtime, for example, taking a vacation can be seen as part of the yearly schedule and encouraged accordingly.

The Returns of an Engaged Workforce

While time off and workplace flexibility alone will not solve productivity issues, they can go a long way toward boosting productivity. Some studies have found that long vacations may not reduce stress so much as they force workers to do more in a given amount of time at work. Other researchers directly link time off with better health. In either case, for companies struggling to compete in a world of tight labor supply, a flexible approach to work and take a vacation may quickly become a must-have for ensuring growth and success.

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    Written by Rob Thompson
    Rob has 20 years of experience developing thought leadership in all aspects of workforce strategy. Through his writing and industry expertise, he has helped organizations bring their insights to the market in multiple fields, including workforce technologies, RPO, MSP and total workforce strategies. In addition, he has experience driving brand development and messaging for growing organizations in information technology, consumer and non-profit verticals.