Five Ways to Create a Vacation-Friendly Office

It’s a conundrum. Your company offers generous PTO or vacation time, but nobody uses much of it. Employees refuse to budge from the office for anything less than a funeral but feel checked out and keep one eye on the want ads. Meanwhile, your boss wants to know why a benefit added to improve recruitment and retainment isn’t working.

Your company isn’t alone. According to Protect: Time Off’s survey, only 46% of American employees use all their vacation time. When employees don’t take real vacations, their focus becomes frayed, and their work begins to suffer. On top of that, the vacation gap can turn into a cycle. Employees are afraid to take a vacation because they don’t see anyone else taking a vacation. By making some small changes and adding a few benefits, you can put a stop to this and establish a healthy, efficient workplace.

1. Provide flex time.

I once had to take off half a day of work to go to my local IRS office. I’ll repeat: I used time meant for relaxation and travel to wait in line at the IRS. I’m not alone in using vacation time to run errands and complete unrelaxing tasks. Across the country, people begrudgingly use their vacation time to move, update driver’s licenses, and, ugh, correct tax information. As a result, they don’t spend time actually recharging and instead come back to work as stressed out as ever.

It doesn’t have to be this way. More employers now offer flex time, which means that as long as employees put in their required weekly hours and complete their work tasks, they don’t have to be chained to a desk from nine to five. An employee who needs to go to the DMV can do so in the morning and work later in the afternoon to finish projects. Flex time saves vacation time for its intended purpose and frees employees to enjoy a real vacation.

2. Give employees a vacation bonus.

Just because your employees have PTO doesn’t mean they can afford to travel. In a nationwide Associated Press/NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll, nearly all surveyed employees who weren’t taking a vacation said they didn’t have the money for travel. For many people, even a road trip to Grandma’s cost too much. They didn’t see the point of using PTO.

To help with vacation affordability, some employers now offer vacation bonuses. Companies including BambooHR, United Airlines, and Evernote offer their employees bonuses or stipends for travel. Vacation bonuses give recruitment a huge boost and give employees who won’t bite the vacation bullet to take that family trip. For anyone trying to meet financial goals like paying off student loans or saving for a down payment on a house, vacation bonuses provide a way to take a trip without breaking budgets.

3. Implement 401(k)-style accounts.

If you’d prefer a more traditional way to help employees afford vacations, check out vacation savings programs. These products allow employees to direct post-tax dollars from their paycheck into a vacation savings account. Employers can choose to match up to a certain percent too. Since these kinds of savings accounts are familiar to many employers, they can be a good option for executives who find vacation bonuses a little too far out for them.

These FDIC-insured accounts can keep employees from using high-interest credit cards to pay for vacations, and the set-it-and-forget-it style of paycheck deduction makes saving easy. When employees are ready to travel, the funds are already there. Many plans even have prepaid cards to access the savings.

4. Offer a savings platform.

A company-branded savings platform offers tons of vacation incentives. This online marketplace provides exclusive deals on name-brand products for employees and has a range of deals on cruises, car rentals, hotels and motels, and other travel-related services. It removes the cost barrier to taking a vacation and features unique savings employees wouldn’t have outside of their workplace, creating a strong retainment incentive.

The platform can also help with larger office-culture issues related to vacation. An employer-provided platform that features travel savings can help you develop a more vacation-friendly work atmosphere. Even better, platform hosts have teams for customer service and IT, so you don’t have to worry about your workload.

5. Take a dang vacation!

Company culture doesn’t always follow company policy. If employees don’t see their colleagues taking vacations, they’ll hesitate to take one themselves. So be the change you want to see, and get out of town. By taking a vacation, a real vacation that doesn’t involve checking any work emails, you can set an example.  Talk to people in management positions about setting an example too. Before you leave, take all the pre-vacation steps you would want employees to take. Delegate tasks that colleagues can cover while you’re away, check in with your manager, and set up an out-of-office message with the dates of your vacation and whom to contact in case of an urgent issue.

Just a few simple steps can make a difference in your company’s attitude towards vacation. Let your employees know that it’s not only ok to use vacation time but also truly encouraged, and you’ll start to see a happier and more effective workforce. What changes have you already implemented to improve PTO use?