Despite the idea of a “work–life” balance becoming a buzzword in many organisations over the last few years, it seems like many bosses in the US are actually hurting their employees’ attempts to achieve this elusive ideal.
According to the latest US Employee Engagement Study, almost half (41%) of US employees think that a work-life balance is impossible to achieve. The study, which was commissioned by Randstad US, implicates US bosses as one of the main factors in blocking employees’ attempts to attain a work-life balance.
The study was carried out on behalf of Randstad US by Ipsos, and took place from June 10th to 26th, 2015. It was an online survey which was conducted on a random sample of 2,279 US employees. The employees surveyed were all 18 and above, and were weighted on current US population data to balance for age, ethnicity, gender and education level. As such, the sample was fairly representative of the US workforce.
According to the study findings, 42% of US employees feel that their employers don’t encourage them to attain a work-life balance. The mechanism through which employers stifle efforts at work-life balance is through overt or veiled signals from bosses regarding vacations.
The study seems to suggest that US employers are discouraging (or at least failing to encourage) employees to take their allotted vacations. 39% of the respondents reported that they feel that their bosses don’t encourage them to take allotted vacations. 36% reported that they have had to cancel their vacation plans because of work.
Even where bosses aren’t directly intervening in employees’ vacation plans; the perception of their reluctance can is having a subtle influence. In the US Employee Engagement Survey, 38% of respondents reported believing that taking fewer vacations makes them look better in the eyes of their boss.
It seems US bosses aren’t just content on discouraging their employees from taking vacations. For those brave souls who ignore their bosses’ subtle (or not so subtle) cues, the long arm of the boss interferes with their vacation.
According to the Randstad study, 45% of US employees reported that their bosses don’t help them disconnect from work while on vacation. 46% reported thinking about work while on vacation. Although the nature of their thoughts wasn’t reported, they were probably stress-ridden thoughts. 49% of the respondents reported that feeling stressed after returning from their vacations.
The Randstad study isn’t the first one to implicate bosses in discouraging employees from taking their vacations. A study carried out by Glassdoor in 2014 made similar conclusions. It revealed that US employees take only 51% of their paid vacations.
The reason for US employees not claiming almost half of their paid vacations was partly attributed to work interfering with vacations. 61% of employees in the Glassdoor study reported having been contacted by a co-worker for work-related reasons while on vacation. 25% reported that their bosses contacted them about work related issues while they were vacationing. (https://www.marketwatch.com/story/americans-only-take-half-of-their-paid-vacation-2014-04-03)
It seems even illustrious US employers like Amazon aren’t free from interference with vacations. An exposé on Amazon published in The New York Times in August 2015 revealed a culture which discourages vacations. The article featured stories of an employee who reported working during vacation, and another whose boss complained about the quality of her internet connection during vacation. (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/16/technology/inside-amazon-wrestling-big-ideas-in-a-bruising-workplace.html?_r=0)
To be fair, Amazon largely rubbished the allegations which appeared in the NYT story, branding them “ludicrous”. Even then, it is unlikely that any company would give credence to a story which criticizes the way it treats its workers.
The point here is that Randstad’s finding that US bosses discourage or interfere with workers’ vacations isn’t far fetched. It is backed up by both research studies (e.g. the Glassdoor study) and anecdotal evidence (e.g. the Amazon story).
Hurting The Bottom Line
By discouraging employees from taking vacations, bosses may be inadvertently hurting their company’s bottom line. According to the Randstad study, employers who encourage employees to take their allotted vacations are more likely to boost company morale, reduce turnover and increase productivity. All this can of course have positive effects on the company’s bottom line.
It is therefore not a stretch to suggest that those who discourage employees from taking vacations may be inadvertently hurting their bottom company’s line. The keyword is “inadvertently” since it is unlikely that most bosses would deliberately make decisions they know can hurt their organisation.
The Randstad study is perhaps the wake-up call that organisations in general, and bosses in particular have been waiting for. Its findings should cause employers to reexamine their policies (both overt and covert) regarding vacations. Employers should strive to create an environment in which workers feel empowered to take vacations (which they are legally entitled to) without fearing recrimination (real or imagined) from their bosses.
Jim Link, Chief HR Officer, Randstad North America believes that creating such an environment will benefit not just the employers and organisation, but also the bosses. He was quoted telling PR Newswire that
“Bosses who proactively encourage workers to unplug, unwind and truly leave work behind to enjoy time off will be looked upon as workplace heroes.”
As experienced leader knows, being esteemed by followers can be an invaluable asset, especially during tough times. As such, encouraging workers to take their vacations can give a boss the amount of credibility, loyalty and commitment which can come in handy when the going gets tough. As such, employers need to seriously rethink not just their vacation policies, but also the attitudes of their managers towards employees who take them.