The Power of Vacation in Employee Wellness

How important is vacation? It can be summed up in one sentence: rested employees are more productive employees. Taking vacation can reduce stress, help prevent burnout and promote work-life balance by allowing for more time to be spent with family, significant others and close friends.


Yet most employees don't take vacations often enough and many don't use all of their allotted paid vacation time. According to Expedia's 2015 Vacation Deprivation Study, American workers reported leaving four full days of vacation on the table each year, with 15 available and 11 taken.


As there are approximately 122 million full-time workers in the U.S., that amounts to just under 500 million unused vacation days a year.

Failure to Take Vacations Impacts Employee Health

Sixty percent of employees who don't feel they have appropriate work-life balance are concerned about not having time to take care of themselves in terms of health, diet, and exercise, according to a Harris Interactive survey on behalf of Purchasing Power. And there is cause for concern.


Consistently working long hours and not taking respite away from work can have a damaging effect on health and can negatively affect family life. A nine-year study reported in Psychosomatic Medicine found that vacations actually reduce the risk of heart disease. Men who did not take a vacation for several years were 30 percent more likely to suffer a heart attack than those who took a vacation at least one week a year.


The study also reported that skipping even one year's vacation time can be associated with increased risk of heart disease. The highly-reputable Framingham Heart Study found vacation deprivation may be equally hazardous for women.


Women who took a vacation once every six years or less were almost eight times more likely to develop coronary heart disease or have a heart attack than those who took at least two vacations a year.

Why Americans Aren't Taking Vacations

What drives Americans to work such long hours and take few vacations? One explanation is that American workers are intrinsically "workaholics." Getting ahead at work is fundamental to their self-image and to the image they like to project to their employer and to the outside world.


Some workers take pride in the badge of honor of not taking a vacation or paid time off in years. Others may feel their employer discourages being away from work for long periods of time. Using vacation days pays off for both employees and employers.


Employees who take most or all of their vacation time each year perform at higher levels, are more productive and are more satisfied with their jobs than those who do not, according to SHRM's Vacation's Impact on the Workplace report.


Although getting away on vacation allows for recharging both physically and mentally, many working Americans aren't able to take an out-of-town vacation, primarily due to the cost involved, according to a recent Harris Poll on behalf of Purchasing Power.


Conducted in March 2016, the survey showed that 26 percent of full-time employees didn't go out of town on their vacation last year. Failing to get away comes at a price, in terms of productivity, morale, and health. While staycations may be the only option for some employees, having complete time away and being totally disconnected from the office can be the healthiest step to take.


Of those who did not go out-of-town on vacation last year, 68 percent reported that the reason was cost-related. Interestingly, the cost was not just a factor for those with lower salaries, but was a consideration for employees in salary ranges under $100,000:

  • 45 percent of those who earn less than $50,000 annually reported that cost was the primary reason they did not go away on vacation;
  • 25 percent of workers whose salary is in the $50,001 to $74,999 range said they did not take an out-of-town vacation last year due to cost; and
  • 16 percent of employees in the $75,000 to $99,999 salary range said cost was the reason they did not leave town for vacation.

What Employers Can Do

Employers can help workers with work-life balance by instituting policies, procedures, actions and expectations that enable employees to easily pursue more balanced lives. The benefits of work-life balance to the employer include increased productivity; improved recruitment and retention; lower rates of absenteeism; reduced overhead; an improved customer experience; and a more motivated, satisfied workforce.


Work-life balance enables employees to feel as if they are paying attention to all the important aspects of their lives. Employees who can't afford to get away on vacation don't recharge both physically and mentally. Employers who encourage the use of time off and provide benefits that offer affordable ways to take vacations will improve employee morale and their company's bottom line at the same time.


What can employers do to promote increased use of paid time off? Companies should encourage employees to take advantage of all of their benefits, especially paid time off. And since cost is one of the key reasons employees aren't taking vacations, employers can help by offering an employee purchase program as a voluntary benefit that includes vacation options. Purchasing a vacation package through an employee purchase program is an affordable way for employees to take a vacation.


It offers a disciplined payment plan through payroll deduction that is a less expensive alternative to most credit cards or other financing options. Giving employees the opportunity to deduct budget-friendly payments directly from their paychecks provides an affordable way for employees to take an out of town vacation and offers an alternative to the added expense of high-interest credit cards.


For example, according to CreditCard.com, a $2,000 vacation paid for with a credit card at an 18 percent interest rate will take almost ten years to pay off if the buyer chooses to make the minimum payment. Using credit to pay for a vacation may be a good option for employees who qualify for prime credit and are able to make full payments, but usually it is not the best choice for many consumers who are only able to pay off their minimum balance.


A premier employee purchase program includes a variety of vacation options - hotels, cruises, destination resorts and all-inclusive resorts - that appeal to workers across all demographics, especially when the cost can be deducted evenly from their paycheck through manageable payments over 12 months.


Every employee needs a vacation. Done right, it can lead to fresh perspectives, creative insights, and reduced stress levels. With stress-related healthcare costs in the hundreds of billions, there's a strong case to be made that taking this time to unplug is beneficial for mental and physical health.


Taking time off can make employees both more productive and more satisfied when they return to work, which translates into higher retention rates that can save a company thousands of dollars.

Photo - Copyright: stockasso / 123RF Stock Photo

About the Author

Elizabeth Halkos is chief operating officer at Purchasing Power, a voluntary benefit provider of an employee purchase program. She has over 15 years of experience in client relationship development, sales, marketing and product strategy.