Are Your Employees Afraid to Take Vacation Time?

by | May 27, 2015

Are Your Employees Afraid to Take Vacation Time?

As we approach the summer months, your employees are probably starting to think about taking vacation time. While many American workers look forward to a traditional one- or two-week family vacation during the summer months, the act of requesting time off may have your employees wishing they lived in Europe—where workers typically enjoy far more paid vacation days. Yet, while it’s easy to harp on the disparity of available days, there are several factors that affect how much vacation time workers use, and when they use it. Let’s explore the differences between U.S. and European vacation policies, usage, and how employers can better support workers’ needs through HR policies and modern timekeeping software.

Let’s start with time-off regulations. (Yes, you read that right.)

In the U.S., employers are not obliged to provide employees with paid vacation days. Many do. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about three-quarters of American workers receive paid vacation days1. However, paid time off is a protected right under the European Union’s Working Time Directive, which requires employers to provide a minimum of 20 paid days off per year2. This fundamental difference between vacation time being a voluntary benefit versus a mandatory right is really important to keep in mind, because it helps explain other differences.

Woman using timekeeping software

An employee checks her vacation time balance with WorkForce Software’s timekeeping software.

First, it helps explain the disparity in vacation days granted.

By law, employees in EU countries get 20 vacation days per year, but that’s just a minimum. In fact, several EU member countries offer significantly more vacation time. In France, workers get 30 days of paid leave annually, while workers in the United Kingdom get 28, and workers in Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden get 253.

Compared to these figures, the U.S. average—which hovers around 15 paid vacation days4—looks rather paltry. Yet, a recent study by Robert Half reveals that 4 in 10 American workers don’t use all of their vacation time anyway5.

Which leads us to cultural perceptions of taking time off…

Why don’t Americans use their vacation? Reasons cited in the study included wanting to bank the time in case it was needed later, having too much work to do, and suspecting that taking the time would be frowned upon, among others. In short, there are lots of obstacles to helping American workers take more breaks.

Employers play an important role in making that possible.

Some amount of vacation time usage is up to individual preferences, but your organization can help encourage healthy breaks. Here are four tips for using HR policies and timekeeping software to support employees’ work-life balance:

  1. Add a formal vacation policy to your written HR policies. Employees may be afraid to exercise vacation time simply because there’s no vacation policy in place to clarify expectations. Your written policy should include how vacation days are accrued, how requests are submitted, and any criteria for how they are approved. For example, if your organization uses vacation bidding, let employees know up front whether requests will be approved based on seniority versus ‘first-come, first-served.’ Note that a vacation policy includes much more than merely an allotted number of days. Giving employees a baseline understanding of how requests are approved can help them act more confidently and decisively in the future.
  2. Use timekeeping software to track accruals. Timekeeping software isn’t just for logging in and out times and meal breaks. You can also use it to track how much time employees have earned (“accrued”), route pending requests to managers, and display approved time off in a calendar view. This visibility helps employees make intentional, informed decisions about how to use time off, and it also allows managers to approve vacation requests based on accurate real-time metrics.
  3. Invest in self-service scheduling tools. Workforce scheduling software can allow employees to have a say in scheduling, which can help managers avoid scheduling workers during periods of unavailability. Another useful feature is shift swapping, which allows employees to proactively address conflicts and help the organization maintain productivity levels—even during the summer when vacations are more prevalent.
  4. Give employees a clear view of current and future vacation balances. A surprising number of workers today have to send an email to HR to verify the amount of time off they have available at the present, and have even less certainty about planning for a future date. Those ‘blind spots’ are an unnecessary obstacle to confidently reclaiming work/life balance. Make sure your next time and attendance solution can help users forecast their available vacation time months in advance, at a moments’ notice, so they can plan that next trip.

While some employees may still be shy about taking vacation, it’s important to ensure that your HR policies don’t impede usage. Even better, consider putting more tools in place—such as flexible timekeeping software—that can make managing vacation schedules easier for everyone involved, from employees, to managers, and HR.


1Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Employee Benefits in the United States – March 2014.” July 25, 2014. (

2Center for Economic and Policy Research. “No-Vacation Nation Revisited.” May 2013. (


4Expedia. “Expedia’s 2014 Vacation Deprivation Study: Americans and Asian Workers Lag Well Behind Europeans in Vacationing.” (

5Robert Half. “Vacation Days: Aer You a Saver or a Spender?” May 19, 2014. (

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