A Publication of WTVP

An article was put on my desk three weeks ago that evoked a full range of emotional responses: laughter, anger, and disgust. This article offered some disturbing statistics. It cited a survey from the Society of Human Resource Management showing that employer-offered paid vacation time dropped 21 percent in the last year (87 percent to 68 percent) and paid leave dropped from 68 percent to 29 percent. The article examined a little known ailment: "Leisure Syndrome…where vacation downtime is often accompanied by headaches, cold, or flu symptoms and intense fatigue." One HR consultant said: "Limiting vacation is one way to increased productivity." Yes, a bad one. The article's title: "Workplaces Try to Increase Productivity By Dropping Vacations."

In fairness to the author, I doubt she was advocating for the concept. She points out that employees believe they're overstressed and overworked (don't most of us?) and that turnover could increase. Her point is that ergonomics improvements can improve productivity. I agree. But there are larger issues than ergonomics.

I believe there are many other potential negative effects as well. Stress-related claims (non-workers' comp) costs U.S. employers $300 billion a year. Taking away vacation time from the workplace won't serve to reduce stress; rather, it will only serve to increase it and the costs associated with it.

Consider increased workers' compensation costs. What many would first think of is the most obvious reason for an increase-overstressed and overworked employees-is certainly a factor. Safety is a greater one. What about the stress caused by resentment that causes the employee's focus to be diverted to things other than the job at hand? Tired, stressed workers-even if they're stellar employees who love their work-are more prone to making mistakes and missteps that lead to injuries. Distracted employees are more likely to be injured.

There's another side to this as well. Most employees want-and need-time off. If they can't afford to take time off without pay, many will find a way to take time off with pay. One way we've seen employees attempt to get that time in our Occupational Medicine clinic is to claim a work-related injury. While the majority of the workers we see have legitimate claims, there are some who seek to have time off for a questionable injury. Would it surprise anyone that we notice an increase in questionable claims when deer season opens or the week after spring vacations for kids? There certainly are legitimate claims during these times (most are), but this is an undeniable trend I've seen for the past 10 years.

I'm not advocating increasing paid time off or vacation time for employees. No doubt most of you are already offering time off as a benefit, and no matter how much you offer, you have those who won't use it. However, if you're one of those who are considering dropping this as a benefit or as a means to increase productivity, please thoroughly research all of the ramifications, as well as other options of a decision like this. You'll likely find that taking the route the article cited might serve to produce higher costs to the company than savings or increased productivity can cover. IBI