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Take your vacation, guilt-free, say experts—it’s good for you

Vacation shaming is on the rise, according to stats, and it’s up to organizations to quash the negativity

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Young woman sitting in a hammock in a garden and typing something on a laptop“If you say, ‘I’m on vacation, but I’m available if you need me’, expect people to contact you,” says Cissy Pau, principal consultant at Vancouver-based Clear HR Consulting. (Shutterstock/Dudarev Mikhail)

Whether it’s a sideways look you receive when requesting time off or the pressure to “get it done” before you leave or immediately upon your return, workplace vacation shaming rears its head in different ways, experts say. 

According to the 2019 Alamo Rent A Car 2019 Family Vacation Survey, the trend is on the rise with 48 per cent of U.S. workers surveyed reporting they have been made to feel guilty about taking time off by colleagues, a supervisor, or others—up from 41 per cent last year. 

The feeling crosses borders. Canadians also feel dejected over vacation time, with more than 60 per cent of us reporting we suffer from “time off tax”—or workload burden experienced before and after taking a vacation—according to a 2018 ADP Canada Sentiment Survey. In addition, 54 per cent feel vacation deprived, as per a 2018 Expedia survey.

“Organizations are dealing with the fact that they are doing more with less,” says Dominic Levesque, president, professionals and innovation lab at Randstad Canada. “[Vacation shaming] is a symptom of an organizational problem.”

Here are some typical scenarios where vacation shaming crops up and how to deal with it, if and when it does. 

JUST TOO BUSY 

We’ve heard it from colleagues, managers, friends and family, alike: those “too busy” to vacation. Whether it’s true (perhaps resources are slim) or fuelled by a need to feel indispensable, it’s an unhealthy modus operandi, experts say.

“People have a self-conversation that says, ‘What if I miss something? What if a decision is made and I’m not part of it? Maybe they don’t need me as much as I thought they did,’” workplace expert and public speaker, Beverly Beuermann-King of Work Smart Live Smart, says. “It’s a sense of expectation we have of ourselves and for other people.” 

Not only can it negatively impact performance—perhaps leading to burnout—but it can also set a precedent for the team, says Cissy Pau, principal consultant at Vancouver-based Clear HR Consulting. If you’re a manager with this attitude, your staff may fear requesting time off, while as a teammate, resentment may brew amongst colleagues, who feel your resistance hinders them from taking vacation.

“People say, ‘I don’t have time to take vacation,’ or ‘If I do take the time, I’ll have double the work when I get back’,” says Pau. “[Companies] need to put in some contingency for that, get more people trained, or be OK if things don’t get done, because it’s not fair if people [feel they] can’t take [time off].”

Human resources can play a role in ensuring all employees are booking, and taking, their vacation time, so it becomes mandatory, adds Pau. And managers can keep lines of communication open, adds Beuermann-King, explaining the benefits of vacations and rules around taking them.   

“Vacations are absolutely critical when it comes to being productive and efficient in the workplace,” she says. “As leaders, it’s important that you help [employees] create buffers [boundaries]…so they can be away, disconnect and come back without feeling like it wasn’t worth going away.”

TOO MUCH TIME OFF 

You may get three weeks of paid vacation, but you’re surely not going to take it all at once, are you? Feeling discouraged to book off a chunk of time resonates with Canadians. Though (on average) we took 15 of our 17 average annual vacation days, according to the Expedia survey, 55 per cent of respondents booked “mini breaks”, adding a day or two onto a weekend, rather than full weeks. Perhaps that’s how, according to the same survey, Canada ended with a projected 40 million unused vacation days in 2018. 

The stats speak volumes about how we feel our vacation days “should” be used over what we are entitled to, says Pau. When requesting time off she recommends providing ample lead time, while taking into consideration busy times of the year—such as the holidays—and how your absence impacts the team. And, she adds, don’t book your flight before your vacation is approved. 

“Try to be more sensitive…put yourself in the employer’s shoes,” she says. “It’s about being a little more proactive…‘here’s what I’m doing to make it easier [while I’m away]’.”

Workplaces that don’t accommodate longer periods of time off,or do so begrudgingly, risk depleting morale, productivity, or even losing talent to other companies with better attitudes around holidays. 

“Progressive companies are the ones that monitor vacation usage and make sure people take their vacation days,” says Beuermann-King. “It’s important to put a priority on it, as it’s good for our physical and mental health, good for our relationships, our productivity and creativity when we get back to work.”

SHOES TO FILL 

Finding the right person to take on your role is a legitimate concern—and can deter you from taking vacation—particularly for those in senior roles, who may fear that a fill-in will do a sub-par job (or perhaps just as good, or better, a job). Being involved in the recruiting and training process can help mitigate those feelings, says Pau, and it’s also a chance to set boundaries.

“It’s up to you to set the expectations of when you are and are not available,” she says. “If you say, ‘I’m on vacation, but I’m available if you need me’, expect people to contact you.” 

The quest for back-up should begin at the organizational level, adds Levesque, ensuring that enough resources and staff are in place to support cross-training and role shadowing. Structure, process and resources dedicated to vacation time will sustain talent and keep productivity and morale up, he adds. 

“If you have a culture of teamwork, people find it much easier to transfer the work…and trust the person who is going to take on their role,” he says. “It’ s building into the architecture and making sure the culture supports the rest.” 

PLAN AHEAD

Looking to use your vacation time wisely? Use these tips to plan your next family vacation and take heed of this advice to successfully detach and unplug from the office.