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Stress Management -- Employers Can Help De-Stress Employees
by Barbara Bartlein, The People Pro

Fewer Americans are taking vacations. According to a new survey on, 35 percent, or an estimated 5.2 million Americans, will not use all of their vacation days this year. They will leave an average of three vacation days on the table, which means that employed adults are giving back a total of more than 438 million vacation days in 2007 alone.

According to Tory Johnson from ABC news, there are two workplace issues that prevent most Americans from taking much-needed time away: stress and concern about job security.

For many Americans, the stress continues even when they take time off. Over thirty percent of workers report that they struggle with work stress when out of the office. Many check their email and voice mail while on vacation or participate in conference calls, thus not really getting a break from the routine.

Employers are beginning to recognize the dollars-and-cents of their employees running ragged without time to relax and recharge. Studies have found that the total health and productivity cost of stress in the workplace could be as high as $150 billion a year. Other studies have found that employees, who take at least a full week of uninterrupted time off, have fewer sick days. Investment in good vacation programs can mean improved productivity and less absenteeism.

Some companies have policies that force people to take their vacations. At the corporate offices of 1-800-GOT-JUNK, employees receive five weeks of paid vacation at two years of service. But there is one condition; they must take two consecutive weeks off to recharge. CEO Brian Scudamore says the "extra vacation helps prevent burnout, which can lead to losing employees--a very high price to pay."

Employers can help their staff reduce their stress by assisting with vacation planning. Here are some ideas:

• Establish vacation savings plans. Sure, employees could do this by themselves but it is so much easier to save money if you never see it. Create an option for an automatic payroll withdrawal for future vacations.

• Offer financial counseling through HR or the EAP. Make sure that employees have access to good financial advice so they have the resources for a yearly break.

• Coordinate a vacation calendar. This allows for a fair rotation of key dates and weeks. It also allows the employees to have input to make sure dates work for the business.

• Announce job changes after vacations, not before. It is impossible to relax if you are worrying about the pending changes at work. Employers need to carefully evaluate the timing of any major announcement.

• Partner with a travel agency. Many agencies are willing to work with companies to get group rates, special discounts and organize travel. Provide in-house workshops on vacation planning.

• Distribute job responsibilities. Make sure a back up is designated for the vacationing employee. It is difficult for a staffer to relax if they worry that they will return to an overflowing desk, voicemail and e-mail.

• Establish voice mail and email vacation greetings. This not only reminds the employee to change the greetings but gives them a quick format to do so. This helps to eliminate the flooding upon return.

• Give an extra half-day off before the vacation. This not only helps the employee with last minute plans and details, it builds loyalty. It makes it clear that the company really values their contributions.

• Eliminate last minute projects. Nothing is worse than trying to exit and a bunch of new work gets dumped. Work with the employee to get major projects out of the way at least two weeks before the vacation.

• Encourage at least a week's vacation. Long weekends really do not give enough time for relaxation. Make sure company policies and supervisor's attitudes encourage employees to take the vacation time they need.

• Discourage "call-ins" while on vacation. Traditionally viewed as the sign of dedication, employers now recognize that it interferes with true relaxation and can be very unhealthy.

• Allow a gentle re-entry. Don't bombard the returning worker with stacks of work and projects. Demonstrate your interest by scheduling time to visit with the employee about his vacation.

Don't miss the chance to take a break this summer. But remember, Erma Bombeck once said, "When you look like your passport photo, it is time to come home."

FREE E-mail newsletter, sign on at Barbara Bartlein, is The People Pro, and President of Great Lakes Consulting Group, LLC, which helps companies sell more goods and services by developing people. She can be reached at 888-747-9953, by e-mail at: or visit her website at



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