3 Ways to Get Employees to Actually Take a Break Employees say they want better work-life balance, so why don't they use those vacation days?

By Matt Straz

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Employees want better work-life balance and greater flexibility, and employers are responding with new paid time off (PTO) policies. Although many companies have adopted unlimited vacation policies, some employees aren't likely to use those days when the office gets busy. And when your best performers don't take time off, they put a serious strain on themselves and the team as a whole.

Related: The Truth About Work-Life Balance

A recent analysis by Oxford Economics found that American companies surveyed had amassed $224 billion in liabilities from unused paid time off. What's more, when employees don't take time off, their health, performance and happiness suffer.

Give employees the work-life balance they crave while still making sure they take a break. Here are a few strategies to get employees to step away from their desks every now and again:

1. Encourage stress relief breaks.

Employees don't use their hard-earned paid time off because they're afraid they can't afford it. According to a survey of American workers conducted by Project: Time Off in 2014, 40 percent of respondents said they were leaving vacation unused because they feared returning to a mountain of work, while 35 percent said they believed nobody else could do their job while they were away.

If employees are stressed out by the idea of leaving the office, they won't -- even if they have unlimited days to do just that.

If the thought of taking a full day off frightens employees, start small and encourage them to take short breaks throughout their regular work day. After all, 71 percent of the 21,000 employees surveyed by Quantum Workplace this year said they wanted stress-relief breaks, such as naps, massages or required breaks -- but just 28 percent of employers surveyed actually provided them.

Challenge employees to walk around the office a few times a day, eat lunch away from their desks or head home an hour early on a few Fridays. Short scheduled breaks allow employees to catch a breather without the stress that extended time away from the office brings.

Related: How Successful People Work Less and Get More Done

2. Grant spontaneous non-holidays.

During busy seasons, especially, employees work long hours, forgo breaks and work at top speed to meet their deadlines. When the workload finally dies down, they're left tired and burned out.

Among those surveyed by Quantum Workforce, 76 percent said they wanted time off from work to recharge. But employees aren't likely to take mental health days -- even when they need them. In fact, 42 percent of Americans surveyed by Skift earlier this year said they didn't take a single vacation day in 2014.

Reward hard-working employees with a day off after stressful work periods and big accomplishments. Shut down the office or recognize the achievements of specific teams. Did the sales team's members crush their quotas? Did the IT team successfully redesign and relaunch the website before the holiday shopping season? Reward those employees with time off.

With time incentives, everyone wins -- employees will take the time off they need to stay healthy while keeping their quality of work high.

3. Discuss the benefits of taking time off.

Managers want their employees to be happy and healthy and understand the benefits of taking time off. In the Project: Time Off survey, 80 percent of managers said that using vacation time is important to maintain team energy levels, and 74 percent said it gives employees better attitudes.

But employees don't know their managers feel this way. In the same survey, 80 percent of workers said they would be more likely to use more of their paid time off if their boss encouraged them to do so.

Open communication will help employees take more of their much-needed paid time off. Start with clear communication about the policy. Do unused days roll over to the next year, or can they be paid out for unused time? Is there a limit to the number of days that can be taken in a row?

Then, talk to employees about the benefits of taking time off and encourage them to do so. Remind them why days off are important and emphasize that taking them won't hurt their reputation around the office.

What do you think? How do you encourage your employees to use their paid time off?

Related: Adopt These 12 Habits for a Better Work-Life Balance

Matt Straz

Founder and CEO of Namely

Matt Straz is the founder and CEO of Namely, the HR and payroll platform for the world's most exciting companies.

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