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On Vacation, Your Employees Are Working Pretty Hard

Even when they take vacation time, your employees might not be getting away from their work.

It probably comes as little surprise to hear your employees aren't using all of their vacation time. Studies saying so pop up pretty regularly, and pretty consistently show that employees are leaving some paid time off on the table come the end of the year.

A new survey from career site Glassdoor again shows that to be true, estimating that on average Americans only used 51 percent of their available vacation time in the last 12 months. What might be more alarming and more surprising, however, is what's happening when employees do take that time.

In short, they work. The survey found that 61 percent of employees admitted to doing some work while on vacation.

In a world of smartphones and WiFi, that might not seem like a big deal. It's easy enough to work remotely nowadays, and maybe they're only logging on for a minute to check their email.

But in fact, the highest percentage of employees who admitted to working on vacation (24 percent) said they were contacted by colleagues about work-related matters. And 20 percent said they were contacted by their boss.

(However, 17 percent did admit they logged on because they were having a hard time not thinking about work.)

Meanwhile, the highest percentage of employees (38 percent) who worked on vacation said they did so because they were the only ones at their company who could take care of the issue at question. A thankfully-small but still startling 6 percent said they were driven to work because they were afraid of their boss.

There are some interesting demographic differences in the study. The more money an employee makes, the more likely they are to work on vacation, with 71 percent of those making more than $100,000 per year saying they did so. This makes some sense, if you assume higher salary correlates with a higher position in the company (and thus that idea that nobody else at the company could take care of the issue at hand).

Sacred Time

Still, vacation time should be something close to sacred. The quick fix? Stop calling your employees while they're on vacation (DUH). But if that's hard to do without putting systems in place, consider implementing one. 

One option? Gatekeeper policies. Have employees buddy up with somebody who understands how they work. When their counterpart goes on vacation, only they can contact each other if something comes up. All attempts to access the vacationing employee have to go through their gatekeeper, who can judge just how needed that employee really is.

Policies that require teams to let their off-the-clock employees put their guard down have been shown to have a dual benefit. Not only do they increase that employees' happiness, they also foster stronger teams that have to find ways to make things work despite that employees' absence. You should let that same principle hold true with vacation time.

Otherwise, you might find yourself with employees acting in accordance with one other finding from the survey--taking time paid time off to interview at another company, something 11 percent of employees (and 20 percent of younger workers) admit to.

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