How do you know if your employees are happy with your vacation policy?

3 min read
Sep 11, 2018

Photo of a person in a hammock on the beackh, by Marvin Meyer

Vacation policies have changed quite a bit over the years. Employers have experimented with unlimited vacation, interchangeable paid-time-off (PTO) and sick days, and the traditional method of accrued PTO days with a set number of sick days. However, the Society for Human Resource Management still reports that about a third of employees don’t take earned vacation time due to fears of getting behind on work, feeling like they do not have adequate coverage for their time away, and wanting to show dedication to their employer.

Each vacation policy has its advantages and disadvantages but the best indicator of how your employees feel about your policy is, well, how they feel about it. Even so, it can be challenging to get a pulse on your employees’ true thoughts on vacation and time off policies due to the fear that vacation is comparable to slacking off or not working hard enough. Indeed discovered that 57% of Americans didn’t take time off due to “work culture” and 59% of individuals ended up working during their time off.

Here are some interesting findings from Owl Labs’ most recent benchmark report surveying 2,969 individuals across the US and Europe that shows that it might be time to check in with your team:

  • 26% of individuals feel guilty taking vacation time or being away from work.
  • Women are 17% more likely to feel guilty taking vacation time than men.
  • Americans are 2x more likely to take less than 12 vacation days per year than Europeans.
  • Employees aged 25-44 are more likely to feel guilty taking time away from work than those who are older.
  • Men take an average of 12% more vacation days than women.
  • Those aged 65+ take, on average, the most vacation days, while those between 25-34 take the least.


Many studies have shown that flexible vacation policies that empower employees to be autonomous and make their own smart decisions lead to employee happiness, decreased turnover rates, and lower costs.

When it comes to evaluating how well your current vacation policies are working, one strategy to determine its current state is to create and send an anonymous survey to all employees. (That way your employees can feel most comfortable being as honest and direct as they can!)

Some questions to consider in this survey are:

  1. How many vacation days do you take per year?
  2. For what reason do you choose not to take vacation days? (For this question, you can add options, or have this be an open-ended question depending on the size of your company.)
  3. How satisfied are you with the current vacation and sick day policy? Why or why not?
  4. How satisfied are you with the current remote work policy? Why or why not?
  5. How can we improve our vacation policy?
  6. How can we improve our remote work policy?

These are just a few examples of the types of questions that will give you or your human resources department the information you need to update your vacation policies and improve employee morale.

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Once you’ve gathered your data, choose a representative from each department at your company. Different teams and departments can have different vacation cultures. This can often be a result of leadership. Employees will take cues from their manager, department head, and all the way up to your senior management. If the Chief Marketing Officer never takes a day off, it is likely that your marketing team will take less time as well. Lisa Chui, VP of finance and HR for Ubiquity, says that when managers and leaders don’t take time off, employees are hesitant to take vacation as well. Working together with human resources, take a look at the different types of remote work and vacation policies out there.

Vacation time is an important way to prevent burnout and keep your employees working as efficiently as possible. Though it may sound counter-intuitive that giving employees more time off will actually drive more productivity, trust us that it will benefit both the individual and the employer. (It might even save your company money!)

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