The upside of more employees taking more vacations includes greater employee engagement, satisfaction, and productivity in the long run. However, employers should be careful of a major short-run pothole that can derail the benefits of summer breaks: vacation resentment.
Vacation resentment happens when employees and supervisors feel that a coworker’s time off affects them negatively. Sometimes, the vacationer actually does deserve some shade, especially if they leave large workloads or unclear directions for those who must cover for them. Often, resentment is fueled simply by envy, guilt, or prejudices that have nothing to do with how work gets done.
Vacation resentment can materialize in a number of ways, including:
- Coworkers competing for premium summer weeks off (typically around July 4 or the end of August, or every summer Friday)
- Workhorses who can’t understand why coworkers use up their vacation days
- Single people who feel like they must carry the weight of family vacationers
At its worst, vacation resentment can boil over into vacation shaming, an overt method of discouraging days off, which can sour morale and harm retention.
Unfortunately, just as much-needed vacations seem to be on the rise, so is vacation shaming. In a recent Alamo survey, almost half of all respondents said they had been vacation shamed, while one-third of respondents admitted to being shamers themselves.
5 Tips to Combat Vacation Resentment
It’s clear that simply encouraging workers to take more vacations isn’t enough, and it may even lead to more conflicts due to increasing competition for days off. What’s truly unfortunate is that vacation shaming and resentment perpetuate a cycle of stress. Non-vacationers inflict stress on vacationers, guilting them into working while vacationing or not taking any time off at all. As employees get less vacation time, they only bring more stress and frustration into the workplace.
But there are effective strategies employers can use to keep vacation tensions at bay. Here are a few ways to lower the temperature in your organization this summer:
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1. Talk Openly With Employees
In the early spring, start chatting with employees about their summer vacation needs so you can see any problems with overlapping or clashing vacations before they happen. Take this time to set some rules, too. A good first rule is that no single employee or small group can snap up all the prime vacation days just because they were first to ask. Another good idea is to create a schedule outlining who can cover a vacationer’s workload, how they will do it, and how that vacationer will reciprocate.
2. Set a Good Example
Have the leaders of your organization make it clear to employees that taking vacation (or not taking it) should not affect one’s judgment of a coworker’s performance or commitment. Stress that you encourage employees to take the vacation days they are offered and you understand the benefits that time off can bring.
3. Clarify Your Policies
If you have a flexible or unlimited vacation policy, make sure employees know how to responsibly use this policy without shirking work responsibilities. If you need a certain number of people on deck at the office at all times, be clear about that up front.
4. Encourage a Culture of Sharing and Negotiating Among Employees
Let them determine their breaks among themselves. You might be surprised by how well they can work out schedules and cover for each other on their own. As a bonus, this method will also infuse team members with a sense of empowerment and trust.
5. Train Managers on Vacation Compromises
If vacation conflicts can’t be worked out at the employee level, guide your managers on how to reach the fairest compromises. Really delve into the reasons why people want to take their vacations at the same time. Are people digging in their heels out of necessity or simply out of anxiety/stubbornness?
Compromise could mean employees work some days remotely or are on call for an hour or two. Many employees might be willing to make these concessions to salvage most of their break time.
Is There a Cultural Problem?
If, after trying the above tips, vacation resentment still persists, this might be a sign of deeper cultural conflicts between coworkers that require a little education and empathy. Single people may not know school schedules often dictate when parents can take off. A worker who takes little vacation may not have the same need to recharge that regular vacation-takers have. Non-religious workers may not be aware of the deep significance certain holidays may have for their coworkers.
The key is to make sure your workforce understands vacations aren’t a one-size-fits-all proposition. Give them the tools they need to schedule vacations without overloading colleagues, and let them know from the top down that vacations are not simply offered, but encouraged.
Given all the data available on the benefits of vacationing — in terms of elevating employee health and workplace productivity — it shouldn’t be hard to reach a company consensus on the importance of taking a breather. We should all make a summertime resolution to shelve the vacation grudges. Instead, let’s sit back, relax, and make sure everyone can reap the benefits of time off.
Debra Hreczuck is head of people at CultureIQ.
Debra Hreczuck is the head of people at CultureIQ, a global culture management software and consulting company headquartered in New York City. Over the past year, CultureIQ has gone through a merger and grown its employee count by triple digits. Deb has more than a decade of experience leading human resources teams. When she’s not focusing on people and culture, she lives in Brooklyn and has two delightful children who keep her busy.