We all know people that forfeit weeks of earned vacation every year. Some brag about how they have not taken a vacation in years because there is too much to do. You may even have foregone taking some vacation days yourself. On the surface it seems intuitive that giving back your vacation time to the company makes you appear more dedicated. However, when you analyze the facts, it really does you a disservice.
Many people have heard of the Japanese concept of Karoshi, or death from overwork. A few years ago, the case of Kenji Hamada made news when he died of a heart attack at 42 after continuously working 75 hour weeks, with a four hour-a-day commute. While his is an extreme case, there are lessons to be learned from his fate. When you overload yourself for too long, your body will eventually break down and possibly even stop all together. In an article by Elizabeth Scott, she brings up several reasons why vacation is important. Reducing the potential for burnout, relieving stress, recharging one's battery and even enhancing one's job performance. The points have been well-documented throughout human resource literature and are valid. However, this is just part of the story.
When you decide to go to work for a company, they commit to give you a total rewards package. You probably get a salary, maybe a bonus or commission and possibly even get medical insurance, vacation and other perks. Every person I have ever talked with has held their employer's feet to the fire on getting the base pay they were promised. Ask yourself, if your offer letter states that you will receive $50,000/year, but the employer decides to only pay you $40,000, would you be okay with it? No. If the company were to offer you a $5,000 bonus, would you give it back to the company as a gesture to increase total company profitability? Unless you are the company founder, probably not. I would argue if you are not willing to give back your base pay or bonus, then it does not make sense for you to give back your vacation to the company. If a company does not want you to take vacation time, then why do they offer it? There are three main reasons why a company would offer a benefit to you:
- they are legally obligated to offer the benefit
- they want to stay competitive with other companies
- they want to gain a competitive advantage
There are many instances of benefits and pay practices that are mandated and companies doing anything not in the spirit of these practices can lead to severe penalties against the company. Social Security, unemployment insurance and overtime are just a few examples of these benefits. If an employer violates the law in delivery of these benefits, they would be held accountable. While vacation does not fall into this grouping, it is good to understand how some employer practices are held to be so critical that the government works to ensure all employers are on the same page.
Vacation time is a little different, since there is often no legal obligation. Which then begs the question of why would a company offer a benefit if they are not legally obligated to? This brings us to the next point. It may be a standard practice in the job market for companies to offer vacation, and the employer doesn't want to be perceived as offering a lesser package at the fear of turning off job candidates. If the competitors are allowing their employees to take vacation, then vacation time should treated as a legitimate and necessary benefit to maintain the company's competitiveness.
Some companies try to differentiate themselves from their competitition by offering something above-and-beyond the competition. If the competition offers two weeks of vacation, an employer may market itself as offering more of a work-life balance by offering three or more weeks of vacation. The thought here is that the extra vacation time will attract candidates that put a premium on companies that exhibit behaviors and offer benefits that align with themselves. For a company that offers additional vacation only to admonish employees for using it could be catastrophic from a morale standpoint.
So how do you use your vacation in a manner that does not put the company in a bad situation. Certainly, if everyone in the company waits until November to start taking their vacation time, operations would probably shut down. (Not a good thing). This would also force your manager to have the hard talk about not being able to grant the entire team vacation at the same time. What you need to do is sit down at the beginning of the year and make a plan. How many days of vacation will you accrue during the year? When are your peak times? We can all say that the entire year is a "peak time" but there have to be times where it is critical for you to be there and times where the company can get by? Do you need to take your vacation in big blocks of time or can you break it up across the year? With proper planning, you don't usually have to take off entire weeks at a time to use all your vacation time. With proper planning, you may be able to create some extended weekend vacations while minimizing the impact to your team.
By properly planning vacation time usage, you will increase your health and well-being while also being sure to maximize the financial return you get from the company. Think about it this way. If you make $50,000 per-year and decide to forfeit three weeks vacation, then you have essentially squandered almost $2,900 in opportunity to stay healthy, spend time with family and even do something that could help develop you outside of the office. Don't throw that money away.