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Not Taking Vacation Decreases SMB Productivity

Luke Fitzpatrick
Luke Fitzpatrick

Employees who don't take enough vacation time experience increased levels of stress.

  • Regular refueling in the form of breaks or vacations is a prerequisite for high-quality output. 
  • Continuous on-task time causes strain reactions such as stress and fatigue. 
  • The brain tires well before the body and its energy reserves do. 

The prevalence of the term "work-life balance" means that today, in order to have productive employees, small businesses need to allow their workers to take vacations. While work-life balance means different things to every organization and its employees, the underlying message is that in order to excel at work, a balance between work and home needs to be attainable.

Research suggests that taking a break and getting some clarity away from work pays dividends in terms of productivity and, therefore, output. 

How does not taking vacations impact employees? 

When employees start at their jobs or when individuals first set up their own business, their productivity is sky-high. Day in and day out, employees put their all into the company to cement their position or make their company successful. While undoubtedly impressive, this kind of work ethic can't last forever. 

Overworking habits are only sustainable until both mental and physical barriers come to the forefront. While these habits may be harmful to the individual, there comes a point when overworking leads to negative outcomes for the company as well in the form of fatigue-induced errors, more days off work and eventually staff turnover

In the beginning, it is easy to fall into a pattern of overworking and obsessing over tasks so that they are completed to perfection. However, research shows that individuals can produce higher-quality and more time-efficient work once the brain and body have recharged. 

Therefore, the importance of taking vacation time and the benefits to an individual's psyche can't be overstated, especially since research shows that 60% of people experienced increased levels of stress when not taking enough vacation days. 

While taking time off may be difficult for both the employer and employee, these breaks allow the employee to return to work with a clearer and more efficient approach to their work. This is due to the fact that the time away has allowed them to refuel and de-stress. 

Here are some of the negative effects that can occur when employees don't use their paid time off (PTO).

1. Workers experience chronic stress.

Chronic stress is one of the most common health issues in the workplace. Too much stress over a long period of time has an array of consequences, ranging from low mood to irritability. Furthermore, prolonged stress can lead to workplace burnout. 

While the effect of overworking is detrimental to employees, it also has ramifications for the small businesses that employ them. Many small businesses have an all-hands-on-deck mentality. Unexpectedly losing an employee to stress leave or illness affects operations and may force others to pick up extra work. This has a potential domino effect, as the employee who is asked to take on more work is susceptible to burning out as well. 

2. Workers are less productive.

A person's ability to get things done depends on how well they can focus on one task at a time, be it for five minutes or an hour. However, if a person stays on task for too long, it's inevitable that their physical and emotional resources will be drained and the brain's ability to self-regulate and work effectively will decrease. Once the brain tires, the quality of an employee's output will diminish. 

Time away from work allows the brain to refuel – a factor that is crucial to high-quality output. In short, this means that the longer an employee works, the less productive they are. In a small business, low productivity has far-reaching effects. This could mean that employees miss key deadlines or present work that is below standards because their brain is unable to produce work at the expected quality. 

3. Workers are less creative.

Not taking vacations has an array of repercussions for both employees and employers. While overworking can lead to low mood and poor productivity, it also impacts a person's creativity. 

Work environments can stifle creativity. Going to the same place every day, seeing the same people and the same decorations hardly fuels creativity. This makes it hard for employees to generate new ideas, formulate new business approaches or foster problem-solving techniques. 

It isn't just the working environment that can hamper creativity. Vast amounts of pressure that individuals can experience when they forgo a vacation limits their ability to not only be creative but also to feel inspired. 

A vacation is a way to refuel and thus relax, encouraging creativity to blossom. Diminished creativity is a problem for every workplace, be it a law firm or publishing house. If your employees are feeling stifled, they can't access the part of their brain that assists the process of solving problems by coming up with new solutions. Furthermore, a company may struggle to grow if employees are unable to come up with new ideas that will generate new business. 

How can small businesses help employees take vacation time? 

Encouraging employees to use their accrued PTO doesn't have to come at the expense of your business. Rather, by implementing a few smart policies, employers can reap the benefits of refreshed employees without scrambling to find job cover. This can be accomplished with a generous leave policy and the ability to call on part-time workers to fill in while your full-time staffers are on vacation. 

1. Offer unlimited PTO.

When employers hear the term "unlimited PTO," many think this gives employees free rein to abuse their employers' generosity. Rather, research has found that employees take the time they feel they need and worry about being seen as abusing the policy. 

Companies with an unlimited PTO policy have noted an increase in vacation days, but their productivity also increases. This is mainly due to the fact that employees put more effort into their work leading up to a vacation because they know a break is coming. On the other hand, employees also work better after using PTO, as they are recharged and ready to work again. 

2. Encourage employees to use their vacation days. 

Now that you know the importance of time off to employees and a business's operations, you might want to encourage your staff to use their vacation days. Employers can do this while also increasing productivity. One way you can do this is by offering an incentive, such as additional days of PTO or a cash equivalent, to the employee who completes the most work or does the best work. 

Either way, this kind of incentive is a win-win. Employers enjoy greater employee productivity, and employees are rewarded for their work. 

Final remarks about time off

A common misconception is that when research suggests that employees need vacation time to thrive, this means they need months off work. The reality is that a change of scenery and even a short break from their regular working routine pays dividends. 

Employees are motivated to work harder when they can tell themselves that a well-deserved break is just around the corner. Subsequently, the business will benefit from having well-rested employees who produce exceptional work.

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Luke Fitzpatrick
Luke Fitzpatrick Member
Luke Fitzpatrick was the former CMO at JobCV, he is an academic speaker at the University of Sydney, and covers FinTech trends on Forbes.