The U.S. Has Become the No Vacation Nation

Americans are reluctant to take off the time their employers grant them, but with no discernable benefit to themselves or the company.

learn more about Evrim Oralkan

By Evrim Oralkan

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Americans have a vacation problem.

How many people have a tropical island as their desktop background but never visit one? Four in 10 employees offered paid time off don't use it all, which is kind of a slap in the face to those who don't take a holiday because they can't afford a vacation without pay.

Related: Unlimited Paid Vacation: 'Jedi Mind Trick' or Good Policy?

The United States is the only advanced economy in the world that doesn't guarantee workers paid vacation. One analysis showed that Americans took the least amount of vacation in nearly 40 years last year. They lost $52.4 billion in benefits, without boosting their stature at work. Yet, study after study shows that time off is essential for productivity and avoiding burnout.

Startups have caught on. Many offer unlimited vacation policies to encourage work-life balance. Some even insist new hires take a "precation," so they start fresh.

In my experience, two weeks of vacation per year doesn't cut it. That's barely enough time for employees to disconnect from work, and not enough to rest and enjoy their time off. A good vacation policy allows employees to take paid time off when they need it and includes company-wide holidays.

But how much vacation is too much? And how can you offer an attractive policy without losing money and sales while team members are gone? Unfortunately, there's no such thing as a one-size-fits-all vacation policy. Budget, workload and the size of your team factor in to what's feasible for your company.

Here are some key strategies for creating a custom policy that increases productivity without harming your business:

1. Don't overpromise

You want your team to be well-rested, and you want to offer competitive perks, but startups run on small teams and small budgets. You don't want vacations to overburden the rest of your employees or bring operations to a standstill.

Keep in mind that while you may not offer unlimited vacation now, you can offer other perks to supplement time off.

Don't offer more vacation than you can reasonably afford. If you have to scale back, you'll likely receive resentment in return, but if you're able to increase time off as your team grows, your employees will be pleasantly surprised.

2. Set an example

As the CEO, you need to show employees that you value time off and that work-life balance is something you support, not something you pay lip service to. Take vacations yourself, just prepare your team before you go. If you keep your team in the loop regularly, they'll be able to understand your decision-making process and anticipate what you'd do in different situations in your absence.

3 Scale time off by seniority

Set a minimum number of vacation days that every employee gets, then increase the benefit according to each person's tenure with the company. That creates an incentive to stick with the company and makes senior team members feel valued.

Related: You Need a Real Vacation (And So Do Your Employees)

4. Cross-train employees

You can't let business suffer for the sake of vacations, and the best way to avoid this is to cross-train employees. Explain that everyone will be able to take more frequent or longer vacations, if they can cover for each other.

The employee who's going on vacation should write out different scenarios in which she might be needed, what her response would be and any other relevant information. This way, nothing will slip through the cracks.

5. Give long holidays when possible

There's no reason to have everyone in the office if you're getting nothing but radio silence from clients. If business is slow between Christmas and New Year's, why not close for the week? Your employees will appreciate the extra time with their families. Everyone will come back refreshed and ready to work hard.

A generous vacation policy is important to any startup that's committed to a healthy work-life balance, but there's no perfect vacation policy that will work for every company. Craft a policy that fits your company's size and budget to keep employees motivated and productive without bringing business to a standstill.

Related: Smart Small-Business Owners Are Making Vacation Plans

Evrim Oralkan

Founder and CEO of Travertine Mart, Collecteurs Co-Founder

Evrim Oralkan is the founder and CEO of Travertine Mart, based in Hallandale, Fla., a boutique online flooring company specializing in premium-grade travertine pavers, tiles and pool coping. He is also a co-founder of Collecteurs.

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