Why You Want Your Employees to Take Vacation

Many people refer to the third Monday of January as Blue Monday – the most depressing day of the year. The holidays are over, the weather is cold and drab and there is less sunlight.

If you’ve made some typical resolutions for the new year, you may have given up foods you love, or alcohol for the month. Rather than cheery holiday cards that arrived in your mailbox in December, now the mail just brings bills from purchases you made this past month.

Here’s my prescription for battling Blue Monday. Plan a vacation. Not only will it give you something to look forward to, taking time off is good for your health and your productivity. And encourage your employee to take time off as well.

While many Americans leave vacation days unused every year, according to a survey done by Glassdoor, a career website, 15 percent of U.S. employees did not use any in 2013.

And they even brag about it, believing they are more productive and proving themselves more dedicated and valuable than their co-workers. They may believe it helps ensure job security.

But studies have shown that not using all of your vacation is actually hazardous to your health. The Framington Heart Study found that taking vacation increases your longevity and decreases your changes of dying from a heart-related cause.

And taking a vacation can actually make your more productive. In an interview with ABC News, Francine Lederer, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles said, “The impact that taking a vacation has on one’s mental health is profound. Most people have better life perspective and are more motivated to achieve their goals after a vacation, even if it is a 24-hour time-out.”

Recognizing the importance of time off, many companies have taken unique approaches to make sure their employees refresh themselves.

Rather than mandate a maximum number of vacation days, HubSpot instituted a minimum number. Every employee has to take two weeks off every year. The Motley Fool awards the Fool’s Errand prize to one lucky employee. The company draws a name of an employee who has been with the company at least a year. The lucky winner gets $1,000 and two weeks off, must leave immediately and have no contact with the office. And if you work for FullContact, you receive $7,500 to finance a vacation.

Evernote began offering unlimited paid vacation. But some employees were confused and thought that meant they shouldn’t take any vacation. So the company offered each employee $1,000 to get away, and “come back with a stretched-out mind,” said Phil Libin, chief executive, as quoted in an article in the Wall Street Journal.

There is another excellent reason to encourage a two-week vacation. As the Turnaround Authority, I always recommend that banks and financial institutions require the CFO to take two consecutive weeks off to detect and prevent fraud.

As I write in my book, “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEO’s Mistakes,” during his absence, do his job. Sit at his desk. Open his mail. Review all of the deposits. Talk to his secretary or assistant. Just see what happens. This method has long been highly successful for CFOs, and banks have used this same technique for ages. If you don’t find anything unusual, that’s wonderful. Unfortunately, though, you might uncover a detail worth noticing.”Having another set of eyes review transactions can uncover fraud and some misdemeanors.

Taking time off is good for your health, your productivity and your outlook, and that of your employees. It’s also an opportunity for you to spot potential fraud.

So rather than dwell on the dreary days of January, plan a getaway. Even if it’s just a weekend away, you’ll feel refreshed. And Blue Monday will be just another day.

When Your Employees Hate Their Job

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life,” Confucius said. Unfortunately, a majority of workers have no love for their jobs, and 18 percent worldwide describe themselves as “actively disengaged,” according to a recent Gallup survey of 5.4 million working adults.

In the United States, 30 percent claim to be engaged at work, higher than many countries, particularly New Zealand, where 62 percent describe themselves at not engaged at work.

But let’s not congratulate ourselves. That means that 70 percent of our workers describe themselves as non-engaged or actively disengaged. In their article, “Half Your Employees Hate Their Job,” Tom Gardner and Morgan Housel used an excellent analogy to describe the situation.

“Imagine a 10-person bicycle. This means that three people are pedaling, five are pretending to pedal, and two are jamming the brakes. That’s you, corporate America.”

Other troubling results came from a survey done by Bain & Associates Company with Netsurvey, which analyzed responses from 200,000 employees in 60 countries and found the following:

• Engagement scores decline as employee tenure increases. Employees with the deepest knowledge of the company, and the most experience, typically are the least engaged.

• Scores decline at the lowest levels of the organization, suggesting that senior executive teams likely underestimate the discontent on the front lines.

• Engagement levels are lowest in sales and service functions, where most interactions with customers occur.

No good news there, right? But there are things you can do to engage your employees, which leads to better morale and increased productivity.

In an article in Harvard Business Review, “The Four Secrets to Employee Engagement,” Rob Markey has suggestions that include have the supervisors lead the engagement efforts, train them on how to talk candidly with their employees and have them conduct short, frequent and anonymous line surveys to stay in touch with how things are going.

Supervisors should also ask employees on the front line how they can improve service to customers. “The companies that regularly earn high employee engagement tap that knowledge by asking employees how the company can earn more of their customers’ business and build the ranks of customer promoters,” Markey wrote.  “And they don’t just ask; they also listen hard to the answers, take action, and let their employees know about it.”

Housel and Gardner, who is also co-founder of The Motley Fool, had suggestions that include letting go of vacation and sick pay policies. Make your office someplace people would actually like to spend time — have meditation classes, install treadmill desks, let them go on Facebook and ESPN at work without feeling like they are cheating.

One intriguing suggestion they had is to let employees write their own job descriptions. The company learns where the passions of its employees are and if possible, can incorporate some of what they want to be doing to what they are actually doing.

Isn’t it worth the effort to get more people pedaling on your team? Your company needs to do whatever it can to get those people who are jamming the brakes or just pretending to pedal to start contributing to the group effort.

In my next column, I’ll write about some companies that have taken even more radical steps to make sure they have a more engaged work force. And I’ll share with you my top tips to engage your employees.