Time Off Is More Important Than You Probably Realize


Josh Leibowitz, Chief Strategy Officer, Carnival Corporation.

Josh Leibowitz, Chief Strategy Officer, Carnival Corporation.

You can’t take it with you.

I’m not talking about dying with gobs of money and tons of stuff still in your estate. Nope. I’m talking about taking your unused vacation days with you… when you die, when you change jobs, and, increasingly, when you begin a new year in your current job.

That’s right. I’m no theologian, but I’m pretty sure there are no vacations in heaven (or that other place). And while I’ve heard of companies occasionally allowing a new employee to delay their arrival a few days so they can enjoy a vacation before they start the new job, I’ve never heard of any company that assumes financial responsibility for unused vacation days earned by an employee at his or her previous job.

Finally, more and more companies these days are eliminating their vacation carryover policy and replacing it with a use-it-or-lose-it policy. In such cases if you use only 10 of your allotted 20 days of vacation, you no longer will be able to add those unused 10 days to your allotted 20 vacation days next year. More and more companies are coming to view their old, liberal vacation carryover policy as bad both for the company’s bottom line and for their workers.

Businesses benefit when employees maintain a good work-life balance. It makes employees sharper and more productive.

Businesses benefit when employees maintain a good work-life balance. It makes employees sharper and more productive.

We’ve all heard – or personally know of – stories in which long-tenured workers who’ve frugally “saved” huge numbers of vacation days and personal time off (PTO) over many years, and then cashed in all that saved-up leave time in at the end of their careers in exchange for either a big fat check or months and months – or even a year or more – of full-time pay and benefits before they begin drawing their pensions and Social Security.

Companies are coming to understand that it’s not good for individual employees to forego, or save up big chunks of their vacation or PTO time. Maybe long ago workers steeped in the old so-called Puritan or Protestant work ethic felt better about themselves because they worked as many days as possible, or maybe logged lots of overtime (paid or unpaid) to help the company out. But if that ever really was true, there’s a boatload of research that tells us that it is not the case today.

Glassdoor.com, an employment website that tracks all sorts of statistical data about job seekers, hiring trends, corporate environments and salaries paid at thousands of companies, recently asked Harris Polls to look into the question of unused vacation time and PTO. What it discovered is that only one in four employed Americans – just 25% – used all of their PTO and/or vacation days in 2013. A whopping 15% said they took none of their PTO or vacation days last year. And even when they did take some of their earned time off, another survey suggests that 55% of American workers last year continued to do some work on vacation: checking email, responding to questions from customers; visiting by phone with supervisors or underlings; or working on projects and reports.

Sadly, these findings were very much in line with previous research showing that modern workers – and Americans in particular – are likely to leave some of their earned time off on the table each year. And that’s not healthy – not for the workers, and not for their companies.

That’s because working long stretches without taking significant time off tends to suck both the creativity and the good humor out of people. That doesn’t mean they can’t continue to perform competently without taking some time off to enjoy themselves. But they’ll perform even better at work if they do take time to, as the cliché goes, re-charge their batteries. Failure to do that leads to diminished motivation, increased complaining, and a growing, relentless sense of feeling under pressure. Sometimes that pressure is imposed by an uncaring or downright mean boss who makes employees feel that they are cheating the company by taking time off. But in many cases it is employees who impose such pressure on themselves, believing that the company needs them more than is actually the case, that no one can really replace them, or that their taking time off unfairly shifts the burden onto co-workers.

Whatever the source of such feelings, the result is the same: tired, harried, pressured workers who feel like they’re carrying the weight of the entire company on their back. Such workers rarely perform their jobs as well as those who have a better sense of life balance. And they almost certainly would perform better if they would use all their earned time off to relax, unwind, learn new things, improve their personal relationships, and generally enjoy life a bit. Thus, both the employee and the employer suffer from workers’ decisions not to use their full allotment of paid time off.

Taking time off to revive to enjoy a special experience can make you a better more energetic, more creative employee

Taking time off to revive to enjoy a special experience can make you a better more energetic, more creative employee

And since using your time off can make you a better worker, it follows that using your time off well can make you an even better worker. So, if you haven’t done so already, begin thinking about how you can get the most out of your vacation time. Don’t settle for staying home to paint the house, or fixing the car. Dream of ways you can use your paid leave to get those experiences, or to expose yourself to interesting new – or ancient – cultures that make you a happier, more productive, and more valued worker. Of course, we at Carnival Corporation would be more than happy to help you enjoy a great vacation on one of our 100-plus fun and luxurious cruise ships operated by our 10 different cruise line brands.

Experiences become memories

 … Josh Leibowitz

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