3 Critical Questions to Ask Your Team About Vacation | Fierce

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Yesterday was the first official day of summer, and many employees are looking forward to planned vacations. Whether it’s hiking through Yellowstone, lounging around on a tropical island, or embracing a good old-fashioned staycation, talks of summer plans are taking over offices everywhere. Yet, the land of vacation relaxation is easier said than done based on the results of our new Fierce survey that launched earlier today.

We surveyed over a thousand full-time employees across the U.S. and found some surprising variances in employee experiences around paid time off (PTO). From managerial support to stress reduction, we investigated various dynamics with paid time off and what gets in the way of employees truly enjoying vacation. Bottom line: people are not getting enough value from their vacations. And because of that, leaders, it is time for you to step up and have the necessary conversations.

Research shows that vacation can improve health, productivity, and even increase chances of promotion. Our survey results reveal that these benefits are not being realized for over two-thirds of respondents. And, Americans have an awful track record of actually taking their allotted time off. A survey conducted by Nielsen research based on 2,068 adults aged 25 years or older found that 52% of people didn’t take all their paid vacation days in the past year, leaving an average of 7.2 days unused. At Fierce, we set out on a mission to learn more. As a result of our findings, we would like to offer some direction with addressing this issue that can be applied by leaders everywhere.

Below are three critical questions to ask your team members about paid time off, with tips to help navigate.

1. What is your preferred amount of time off and are you taking it? This is a great starting question to have with each of your team members. Get curious about their sentiments and assure there is clarity around company expectations. This sets a foundation for future conversations about paid time off.

In our survey, we learned that a third of respondents receive 20 or more vacation days each year, with one in every five employees receiving less than 10 days. The majority (45%) say the ideal number of PTO days would be 20 or more. Those 18-29, however, noted that their ideal number of vacations days is 16-20, less than those in older generations. 15% of respondents would like to take unlimited vacation each year, which is up five percent over the 2012 survey.

Learn about your team members’ desires and how they can truly hit their own goals around work/life blending. Some employees will not want to take as much and others will want to take more. Gain clarity around what taking time off means to each of your team members.

Fierce Tip: Use a PTO conversation as an opportunity to learn more about your team member, and make their answer to this question part of the individual’s overarching growth plan. Explore what the person wants to learn or where they want to go to further support their development. Progressive companies are investing in the whole person approach, where leaders learn where the individuals want to go personally and professionally, and create support for them to achieve it.

2. How can we set up your vacation time for success? This question pertains to before and after the employee takes vacation. According to our survey, for those that do take time off, the stress of work doesn’t stay away long, as returning to the office appears to offset any relaxation that may have occurred. Nearly two-thirds (62%) of respondents are either more stressed or have the same level of stress once they return to the office. The main reported cause of this stress is catching up on missed work, followed by having to readjust to a work mindset and needing to resolve major issues that arose while away. In addition, while on vacation, half of all employees check in with the office, with 13 percent checking in daily.

At Fierce, we argue that leaders set the tone and model the expectations for the conversations. Ensure that your employees have the appropriate dialogue with you and other team members before leaving and after returning from vacation. Make the conversation very actionable and set clear expectations. Some people may want to check in daily while others may want to disconnect completely. It does not need to be one size fits all.

Fierce Tip: Provide a tool and training, like our Fierce Delegation program, that equips team members to plan who will own what tasks and at what decision-making authority when someone is away. Create clarity around the communication. It is possible to help others develop and come back with a game plan. Here is a blog post that focuses specifically on how to develop others when you are on vacation.

3. How can I, and the rest of the team, support you better so you can relax? According to our recent survey, half of all respondents believe their managers support and encourage them to take time off. However, just 40 percent of employees believe the same of their co-workers.

When you ask this question, make sure to cover both areas of the question: you and the team. They may be different. And sometimes, to get the conversation started, it can be helpful to ask how the team works first.

Then, really dive into what works and doesn’t work. You can pan this question out to a larger support question, because if there are issues with how PTO is handled, there are likely other areas where your team member could feel more supported. Perhaps it is a mindset shift or perhaps you will uncover needed resources or attitudes to better support the person. As we talk about issues at Fierce, we often say, the issue exists whether you talk about it or not…so you might as well talk about it.

Fierce Tip: Be real and get curious. Avoid defensiveness. Your team members will gain more respect for you as a leader when you engage in authentic conversations about how they want to be supported. How you show up is critical in the success and outcome of the conversation. Do not make this about you, and instead, have this time dedicated to the people who are critical to your success.

As a leader, your job is to get it right for your people and organization, so check your assumptions at the door when entering these conversations. Ask your people these questions and really listen. To dig into more results, read the full release here.

What other questions should leadership ask about vacation? Please share your ideas!

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