12/01/2013 02:36 pm ET | Updated Jan 31, 2014

Are You Burning Out Your Employees?

According to the October TriNet SMBeat only 62% of employees used their paid time off from September 2012 - October 2013. That means 38% of employees NEVER took a day off in an entire year. Employees may think they are doing the company a favor by remaining on the job, but studies show that occasional time away from work is beneficial. According to The Atlantic, "Just as small breaks improve concentration, long breaks replenish job performance. Vacation deprivation increases mistakes and resentment at co-workers," BusinessWeek reported in 2007. "The impact that taking a vacation has on one's mental health is profound," said Francine Lederer, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles specializing [sic] told ABC News. "Most people have better life perspective and are more motivated to achieve their goals after a vacation, even if it is a 24-hour time-out."

There can be many reasons an employee may be reluctant to take time off. Some feel they have too much work and could not possibly step away. Others are afraid they will be terminated or laid off if they take time away from work. Or their work culture does not reward employees for taking time off as it is seen as not being a "team player" or caring enough about work. It is hard to tell the exact reason for this phenomenon, but studies clearly show not taking time off hurts and does not help productivity. A February 9, 2013 article in The New York Times states, "Taking more time off is counterintuitive for most of us. The idea is also at odds with the prevailing work ethic in most companies, where downtime is typically viewed as time wasted."

So, how can you help encourage a culture of increased productivity when it relates to taking time off?

  1. Create a policy that requires employees to take one consecutive week of time off per year.
  2. Create a policy that causes your time off to cap at a certain amount of time - this will require employees to use time in order to keep accruing time (and people do not like to lose out on time off).
  3. Approve time off promptly and do not penalize employees for requesting or taking time off.
  4. Notice when employees may seem on the edge and encourage them to take time off.
  5. When your employees do take time off, avoid the temptation to contact them with work related questions.

Allowing employees to use their time off may result in happy, more productive employees who put forth more discretionary effort. And a final word on one of my personal pet peeves: if someone takes half a day off - don't send them off with a sarcastic comment like "You must've had a rough day today." Instead, wish them a great evening and don't make them feel bad about recharging.