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Should Employers Require Workers To Take Time Off?

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Orbon Alija / Getty Images

More than half of Americans — 55% — don’t use all of their paid time off, a 2018 study by the U.S. Travel Association found. And while it might make you feel like a better employee to work more and vacation less, not taking time off could actually have the opposite effect. Vacation time helps workers recover from stress and improve their well-being and job performance, according to the American Psychological Association.

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Because so many Americans haven’t been using their vacation time, some companies have taken matters into their own hands by mandating time off. For example, Utah-based photo book company Chatbooks mandates that employees take five consecutive business days off every quarter, and data platform company Cloudera has mandatory “unplugged days.”

But is mandatory time off a solution, or does it just cause its own problems? Well, the answer is both. Take a look at the pros and cons of required time off.

Last updated: Apr. 16, 2021
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Pro: Ensures Employees Get a Mental and Physical Break

Clearly, when most employees are left to their own devices, they don’t take as much vacation time as they should. Mandating time off ensures that employees can get a mental — and physical, in some cases — reset during the year.

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Con: It Still Needs To Be Enforced

Even when time off is “mandatory,” employees might not put in for their required days off. This means extra effort might need to be put in by managers or human resources employees to ensure that everyone is taking their time off — time that is likely better used for other projects.

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Pro: Allows Employers To Clearly See How Much Work Someone Is or Is Not Doing

When someone is out of the office, employers can clearly see what gaps are left by their absence. If it turns out their job is easily covered by someone else — or, performed better by someone else — that’s a sign the employee may not be performing optimally. On the other hand, if it’s impossible to reallocate all of their tasks to others, it could be a sign that the employee is overworked.

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Con: Can Cause Staffing Issues

For some industries where every worker is essential, such as healthcare, having an employee out for a full week may not be feasible. It can also be an issue for smaller companies, where each “team” might just be one individual, so there is no one on staff with the same skills who would be able to pick up the slack.

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Pro: Can Make the Company More Appealing to Prospective Employees

To attract the best employees, an employer usually needs to have some appealing perks that go beyond the job description. Having mandatory time off may be seen as a major plus, especially to workers who have felt uncomfortable taking time off at previous jobs.

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Con: May Be Complicated To Ensure the Policy Meets Federal and State Laws

Different states and localities have different laws about how businesses handle unused PTO at the end of the year or when someone leaves the company. If a company operates across jurisdictions, it may be difficult to create a mandatory time off policy that is compliant across different locations, according to HR solutions company Insperity.

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Pro: Can Improve Work Performance

Some jobs can be very grueling, and unless employees take the time off needed to recover, they can experience burnout and be unable to work at their full potential. Taking time off to reset allows employees to return to work refreshed and able to work at the best of their abilities.

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Con: It May Be Hard To Balance Mandatory PTO With Paid Sick Leave

Many states and cities now require employers to offer paid sick leave. If employers just have a general bucket for “time off,” it can be hard to distinguish which days would count as vacation and which would count as sick time. Because of this, having a more traditional separation of the two types of PTO may be necessary, according to Insperity.

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Pro: Can Help Managers Plan Ahead

If employees are required to take time off after every set number of weeks — or if there are company-wide days off — it helps managers to know these days way ahead of time, so they can plan projects and assignments around these days. When vacation is taken more on a whim, there may need to be some last-minute shuffling to account for someone’s absence.

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Con: Can Still Cause Scheduling Challenges

Unless there are company-wide mandated periods of time off, it’s likely that many people will want to use their mandatory time off around the same times, such as July 4th or Christmas. It can be hard to make sure everything is covered when so many people will be out at the same time.

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