Business of Well-being

Mandatory Employee Time Off: Forced Vacations for Your Health and Happiness

Workaholics beware. Organic office gardens aren't the only innovative new trend taking root in many corporate wellness programs. Many businesses are embracing the idea of "mandatory employee time off" as an effective way to keep employees happy, healthy, and continually contributing to the company's bottom line.

A recent study conducted by The Families and Work Institute determined that 26 percent of the 1,000 U.S. employees who participated in the study felt they were working too hard. Additionally, one-quarter of the participants said they never used their allotted vacation time, 55 percent of whom reported feeling high levels of stress from overworking.

According to the study, employees who opt not to take vacation days are putting themselves and their companies at risk. Overworking can lead to multiple health issues, including high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes.

Sick employees can negatively affect a company in many ways, such as raising the cost of health insurance or bringing about extra expenses related to training new employees in their absence.

Regarding the results of the study, Carlton Yearwood, director of diversity and work-life quality at PricewaterhouseCoopers said, "This study shows that the consequences of overwork for workplace safety, job performance, and staff retention are clear and direct."

For many businesses, mandatory employee time off is the solution to combating such consequences. For example, Motley Fool, a Virginia-based financial services company, enters all 250 of its employees into a monthly drawing in which the winner receives two-week's worth of mandatory employee time off.

Having employees take time off from work to relax, renew, and recharge promotes a healthy work-life balance that ultimately results in higher productivity and employee retention. However, not every company's mandatory employee time off policy must entail a two-week consecutive absence in order to be beneficial.

Insisting employees take a long weekend, work half-day Fridays, or skip one Wednesday a month can also reap positive benefits, such as building company loyalty, strengthening morale, and improving employees' quality of life.

As for any legalities surrounding forced employee time off, all U.S. employers who choose to offer paid vacations or sick days to their employees (as they are not legally required to do so) have the right to both mandate and/or restrict usage of the paid time off they offer.

According to a 2009 report issued by the U.S. Department of Labor, "Since employers are not required to provide any vacation time to employees, there is no prohibition of an employer giving vacation time and later requiring that such vacation time be taken on a specific day(s)."

Ultimately, employee time off is a matter of agreement between an employer and their employees. But as The Families and Work Institute study indicates, encouraging forced employee time off in the workplace may actually be very beneficial.

After all, what company wouldn't like to have healthier, more productive employees, and what employee wouldn't like to be forced to soak up the sun on the beach in Cancun or rush down the snow-covered slopes in Aspen?

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