Let 2017 be the year to have an adventure

Ben Craig
December 08, 2016

As we prepare to leave 2016 behind, it's a good time to do some vacation planning. Human Resources is here to help you be smart about planning time off in the coming year and make the most out of your vacation benefit.

A study conducted by Project: Time Off analyzed American workers in 2015. It concluded that 55 percent of Americans didn't take all of their vacation time - a total of 658 million vacation days unused.  "Perhaps more staggering than the 658 million unused vacation days is that Americans lost 222 million of them," the study states. "Those days cannot be rolled over, paid out, or banked for any other benefit-they are purely lost. That's an average of two full days per worker."

If we're taking fewer days off, does that mean we're more productive? Not necessarily.

A 2015 Forbes article challenged the notion that less vacation time leads to more productivity. "Data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development shows that working more hours means less productivity," states the author. "The most productive countries are Germany and France-each of which has mandated more than 30 days of vacation."

News stories and studies consistently boast the benefits of getting out of the office. Vacation time shrinks stress and anxiety. We need a break from deadlines and a timeout from technology. Vacations also allow us to enrich our personal relationships. Research even shows overall health can suffer if we don't take a break from work. 

Make the most of your vacation benefit

In 2013, DePaul changed its vacation carryover policy from two weeks to one week. One reason for the change in policy was to limit the financial liability associated with the two weeks of vacation carryover, but an equally important reason was to encourage staff employees to take all or most of their vacation in the current calendar year.

A common complaint or misunderstanding regarding that change is that it prevents employees from taking their full vacation allotment because of the university's vacation accrual method. DePaul accrues vacation on a bi-weekly basis throughout the year. This accrual method gives some employees the impression they cannot take a significant amount of their vacation time until later in the year when their vacation accrual is greater. However, significant amounts of vacation can be taken starting in the first quarter of the year when coupled with a week of carryover from the previous year, a week or more of accrued vacation earned, and an additional "advanced or borrowed" week.

To better help you maximize your vacation days, HR created an example: Our employee 'Dee Paul' has 10 years of service with the university and has earned four weeks of paid vacation. Dee and her spouse are going on a three-week adventure through South America in April 2017. The chart below illustrates that Dee could use three weeks of vacation on April 1 (one week carried over, one week accrued, one week borrowed/advanced). If the carry over and advanced week are not used in April, they would continue to be available throughout the year resulting in Dee being able to use all of her vacation before the end of the calendar year.

 

Example: Dee Paul's 3-Week South American Vacation

 

January 1

April 1

July 1

October 1

Accrual Week(s)

0

1

2

3

Carry-over Week

1

1

1

1

Advanced Week

1

1

1

1 (Advance of Oct -Dec. Accrual)

Total Weeks

2 weeks

3 weeks

4 weeks

5 weeks

Start Planning Now

To get a general idea of workforce availability for the year, HR encourages all managers to start the year by inquiring about vacation plans for employees. Not every employee in a department can be on vacation at the same time and certain departments have "peak periods" when it is not feasible for employees to be away from work. Getting a sense of vacation plans and work demands early in the year ensures that vacations are used and avoids frustration for everyone: employees, managers and department colleagues. Once that's done, the fun part begins: deciding where to go and what to do. Happy planning!