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Industry Perspective: Why I Spend $30,000 to Get Employees Out of the Office

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As CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, I had a problem.

I was managing a budget that included more than $350,000 in accrued vacation liability for the association’s 60 employees, amassed over years of employees rolling over their paid time off. Even more than the financial liability, that meant my employees weren’t using all their vacation time — the consequences of which are less quantifiable, but equally serious.

Change needs to begin somewhere. Last year, I challenged our 60 employees to use every last second of their paid time off. I wanted them to spend time with family, adventure somewhere new, or work on the home improvement project they keep putting off. However they spent the time, I just wanted them out of the office. Employees who succeeded at the challenge received a $500 bonus.

The results were beyond expectations. Nearly all the staff qualified for the incentive, reducing the U.S. Travel Association’s vacation time liability by 9% and saving it more than $36,000.

What’s more, as the association’s liability went down, the staff’s productivity and creativity went up as a result of taking time to recharge. U.S. Travel achieved its top legislative priorities, exceeded attendance and expectations at major events and made headlines with thought-provoking research. That’s not to mention the memories we gathered — I was regaled with stories and photos from employees who got married, took a once-in-a-lifetime camping trip to the Rockies, met their grandkids for the first time and so much more.

It’s the double bottom line — when your people succeed, so does your business.

But America still has a problem. Americans are taking the least amount of vacation in nearly 40 years. We have become a nation of work martyrs. In 2013, Americans left 429 million days unused and forfeited $52.4 billion in time off benefits. If workers took just one more day off each year, they would generate $73 billion annually for the economy.

According to U.S. Travel Association research, senior business leaders and human resources professionals overwhelmingly agree that time off boosts employee performance, productivity and creativity while reducing sick time, burnout and turnover. Further, companies that encourage PTO (paid time off) employ more people who are happier with their professional success compared to those companies that discourage PTO.

I’ve seen firsthand the value that time off delivers, and I want to share. We have a new project for America. Find time this year to shut down the computer, get out of the office and experience the benefits taking time off can deliver.

P:TO now stands for Project: Time Off. It’s time to tackle the matter and experience the upside of downtime.

Roger J. Dow is president & CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, the Washington, D.C.-based national umbrella organization representing all segments of travel in America—an industry responsible for generating $2.1 trillion in annual economic output. He can be reached at 202-408-2181.