The classic corporate vacation system is busted. Here’s how to fix it

One company shares a new method that’s making their employees both happier and more productive

The classic corporate vacation system is busted. Here’s how to fix it
Workplace stress has long been the bane of both employees and firms’ operations. It makes workers unhappy – not to mention more prone to cancer, depression, and other ailments – and brings down the overall productivity of an organisation.

One might think that the solution to stress in the workplace, would be to allow time off from the workplace – vacation time, as it were. But according to the Harvard Business Review (HBR), classic corporate vacation systems could be making it worse.

As HBR contributor Neil Pasricha put it, “You get a set number of vacation days a year (often only two to three weeks), you fill out some 1996-era form to apply for time off, you get your boss’s signature, and then you file it with a team assistant or log it in some terrible database. It’s an administrative headache,” he said.

“Then most people have to frantically cram extra work into the week(s) before they leave for vacation in order to actually extract themselves from the office. By the time we finally turn on our out-of-office messages, we’re beyond stressed, and we know that we’ll have an even bigger pile of work waiting for us when we return. What a nightmare.”

More progressive systems, like those employed at Netflix and Twitter, seem to be just as problematic. According to Mathias Meyer, CEO of German tech company Tavis CI, their unlimited, open-ended vacation system is only adding fuel to the stress fire.

“When people are uncertain about how many days it’s okay to take off, you’ll see curious things happen,” he said. “People will hesitate to take a vacation as they don’t want to seem like that person who’s taking the most vacation days. It’s a race to the bottom instead of a race towards a well-rested and happy team.”

So what’s the solution, Pasricha asks. Recurring, scheduled mandatory vacation.

Pasricha collaborated with Shashank Nigam, CEO of global aviation strategy firm SimpliFying, to create a strict system of forced time off. “We designed it so that if you contacted the office while you were on vacation… you didn’t get paid for that vacation week,” Pasricha said.

In this system, employees had no say in when they had to take their vacations. Teammates and clients knew when they would be leaving, and employees had to take their breaks when scheduled. “No questions, paperwork, or guilt involved with not being at the office,” Pasricha said.

The results were astonishing. According to an internal assessment: Creativity went up 33%, happiness levels rose 25%, and productivity increased 13%.

While the sample size was definitely limited – SimpliFlying only employs 10 workers – the concept proved effective. Larger firms will definitely need to do some tweaking before employing a system like this. But with such fantastic results, it may just be worth a try.

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Does sacrificing vacation time lead to career success?
Do you have an employee mental health strategy?

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