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    The Pros & Cons of a Mandatory Vacation Policy

    6 mins

    Offering paid time away from work is key to employee wellness, but even when the benefit is there, employees may not be using it effectively or not taking nearly enough time to rest and recharge. This is where mandatory vacation policies can help, setting a minimum amount of time your workers must take away each year.

    What Is a Mandatory Vacation Policy?

    Mandatory vacation policies, sometimes called minimum PTO or compulsory time off policies, aren’t all that different from standard and unlimited PTO policies. Each one should set clear standards and guidelines for employees taking time off. Most establish maximum numbers of hours for paid and unpaid leave, rules for how those hours are earned, instructions for requesting time, standards for approval, and platforms or processes for tracking and checking time.

    What sets a mandatory vacation policy apart is that it establishes a minimum amount of PTO to use. Employees are required to take a certain number of hours of vacation time within a specific period – usually a year – to ensure that even the biggest workaholics are getting time away from their tasks.

    Like any PTO policy, mandatory vacation can be customized to better suit the needs of your organization. Some employers may require that a minimum number of days be taken off in a row, for example, a straight block of five days during the year. Others might allow their employees to use the minimum number of hours as they please, two days here, three there.

    Why Implement Mandatory Vacation?

    Study after study has shown that adequate paid leave, taken responsibly, can stave off or beat burnout and make workers more creative and productive. Yet even with unlimited time off policies in place, organizations still struggle to get their U.S. workers to take enough time away to rest and recuperate. They leave significant numbers of hours unused and often continue to stay at least somewhat plugged into their work while away.

    The central challenge of modern time off policies in the U.S. is not workers abusing generous systems, though that does occur. Rather, it’s employees being unable or unwilling to take the time off necessary to recharge and remain productive. A mandatory vacation policy seeks to nip these problems in the bud, solidifying required time off for workers to ensure they’ve got access to the resources they need to disconnect.

    Let’s take a look at how a mandatory vacation policy can help (and potentially hinder) your business.

    Benefits of Mandatory Vacation Time

    • Foster a culture that prioritizes employee wellness by clearly folding the importance of rest and work-life balance into company policy. You’ll combat both peer pressure and individual assumptions that any time away is negative by encouraging employees to take time off in larger blocks.

    • Improve morale, increase employee loyalty, and potentially reap benefits in recruiting. People notice when their employers implement policies that encourage work-life balance and improve their wellbeing. Positive word of mouth carries, too. If your workforce sees your business as supportive of them as people, potential candidates will come to know the same through their networks.

    • Potentially encourage learning and development and create more schedule stability. Mandatory vacation policies set a precedent – everyone will be away from the office for at least a certain amount of time each year. In order to meet the staffing needs of these policies, schedules will need to be closely tracked and employees cross-trained to ensure coverage.

    • Mitigate PTO hoarding and cut down on expensive end-of-year payouts by lowering the amount of time employees have at the end of the year.

    Drawbacks of Mandatory Vacation Time

    • It’s potentially more labor-intensive for HR and management. Ensuring all roles are covered is key to avoiding disruptions to productivity or workflow. HR professionals and scheduling managers will need to stay vigilant to ensure vacations are staggered, and work is covered.

    • It may require a culture shift. Is there pressure at your place of business for workers to always show up, always be available, and take as little time as possible? While a mandatory vacation policy is a step toward combating these mindsets, leadership and HR will need to reinforce healthy relationships with time away to ensure success.

    • Problems could arise if workers are not adequately cross-trained. If their roles aren’t covered, employees coming back to piles of work or new mistakes may find the policy more of a stressor than a stress reliever.

    • Not all roles can easily take long stretches of time off. While you can mitigate this with cross-training and adequate coverage, some employees may have difficulty finding slow periods in their schedules that allow them to meet stricter minimum time off requirements.

    • If not carefully monitored, popular holidays can cause coverage issues, and may create some difficult conversations with staff. With some careful planning and solid, well-communicated policy, this can be avoided.

    Building a PTO Policy that Works for You and Your People

    While a policy that ensures mandatory minimum time away certainly has its benefits, it’s important to ensure your organization is ready for such requirements. There’s work to be done  before making any major changes.

    • Does your current vacation policy work for your team? Audit usage metrics and seek out employee feedback. If everyone’s already taking adequate time away, if your workers are productive and happy with the time available, there’s no reason to make unnecessary changes.

    • Does your current culture encourage workers to take the time they need when they need it? A mandatory vacation policy may be poorly received otherwise. Taking steps to foster a company culture that champions work-life balance may be necessary.

    • Do you have adequate coverage when people are away, and if not, what do you need to do to get it? Implementing mandatory vacation time when you don’t have the staff necessary to cover team members when they’re away is a recipe for disaster. Before implementing mandatory PTO, you may need to examine your learning and development practices.

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    Brent Roberts
    Brent Roberts
    Passionate about making benefits and insurance easy to grasp.

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