paid time off

4 Ways to Get Employees to Use More Vacation Time

Did you know that you can now hear the HR Happy Hour show on your Alexa? Simply enable the HR Happy Hour skill and you can hear flash briefings a few times a week. These 3-5 minute episodes cover all kinds of topics that will help you keep your HR skills sharp and stay on top of the latest news. I am recording shows every week or so in addition to the other hosts, and I also am still running We’re Only Human for full episodes.

In a recent episode of the HR Happy Hour Alexa show, I talked about unlimited paid leave plans (episode embedded below; subscribers click through to listen to the 4-minute discussion).


Then last week I spoke with a firm that mentioned the accrued vacation leave liability on their books (millions of dollars!) If you work in HR, you are trying to give your workforce the best benefits you can afford, and that includes paid leave. We want to give them something that shows them we appreciate their efforts, but what happens when employees don’t use that leave? That’s right–it starts to build up a huge liability on the books.

Additionally, it can impact your firm in other ways as well. Taking vacation time has been associated with reduced stress, improved mental/physical health, and more.

Ready for a strategic moment? Sit down with your CFO to talk about how you can reduce that aggregated vacation leave balance (and the associated liability on the balance sheet). Below are four ideas for how to approach it from the HR side. 

  • Offer leave in small increments

I still run across companies that only allow workers to take their leave in hourly increments, and sometimes that’s more than people want to use at one time. If your policy allows them to use that time in smaller increments of 1/4 or 1/2 an hour, then they could take off little bits at a time.

I might not take off an hour early every Friday during the summer because that would eat up my leave faster than I can accrue it, but I might take off 30 minutes early every Friday during the summer months because that still leaves me with a little padding in case I need that leave for something else. Or I could use 30 minutes extra at lunch time during the summer one day a week to eat with my kids. Tons of uses and opportunities for those smaller increments, if they’re available.

  • Have designated “no meeting” days

Want someone to take off? Set up a day each week where no meetings occur. When I’m trying to take a day off, one of the biggest challenges is finding a day with no meetings to interrupt my plans. There’s almost always a meeting, even a short one, that prevents me from getting away for a full day.

However, if Fridays or Mondays were designated as “no meeting” days, workers could use those days to catch up on person things that meetings don’t allow, from doctor’s appointments to grocery trips to simple time with family. It can be any day, but if you pick a Monday or Friday that opens up the option for more three-day weekends, which everyone loves!

  • Make sure leave isn’t perceived negatively

As I mentioned in the episode above, one of the core issues with leave, whether it’s unlimited leave plans or the more ordinary version that most of us have to deal with, is that coworkers sometimes make snide comments about the person taking off. “Where’s Mary? She’s taking the day off? Well, that must be nice…”

Whenever I hear that from someone I reply, “Hey bozo. She’s taking advantage of a company benefit. Drop it.” (Okay, I actually reply in a nicer way, but that might be the version I hear in my head.)

The point is this: your firm offers paid leave as a benefit to not only ATTRACT great talent, but to RETAIN great talent. And how can you retain them if they can never take time off without feeling like they’re giving up their credibility or losing out with their boss or team?

  • Make sure managers know how much leave their people have

Quick, do you know the vacation balance for your team members? More importantly, do your managers know? For most of us, we could run a pretty simple/quick report from our HR or payroll system to show the accrued leave balances for each worker, then work with managers to encourage those people to take off.

It’s important to remember this isn’t just about reducing burnout, it could be about reducing the bottleneck an employee represents. For example, Motley Fool uses a random drawing monthly to send an employee on a two-week paid vacation, preventing them from having ANY contact with the team for that period to see if they are able to succeed without their participation.

Get managers on your team to help with this, and together you can not only reduce that pesky liability but also help your people to be happier and healthier!

What other ideas do you have? How can we encourage workers to take more leave, managers to prioritize leave for their teams, etc.?

One thought on “4 Ways to Get Employees to Use More Vacation Time

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