Three years ago, I gave U.S. Travel Association employees who took all of their vacation time a $500 bonus. I'm convinced it was one of the best ideas for increasing productivity and engagement we've ever had. That's why I've stuck with it every year since.
Back in 2013, I learned that only 19 percent of my staff had taken all their earned vacation that year. Ironically, at the time, U.S. Travel had just launched Project: Time Off, an initiative to prove the personal, professional, economic, and social benefits of taking time off. We had to model the behavior we were seeking, so we instituted the $500 incentive and coupled it with regular communication about the importance of taking time off. I also made sure to lead by example, taking every day I earned -- and talking about it with my team.
Vacation usage skyrocketed. By the end of 2014, 91 percent of employees had used all their vacation time, a 72 percent increase over the previous year. Productivity also skyrocketed. With a recharged and energized workforce, we achieved our top legislative priorities, exceeded attendance and revenue goals at major events and made headlines with thought-provoking research. In short, we discovered the double bottom line: when employees succeed, so does the business.
In the first year of this program, we reduced growth in our vacation liability--the cost of time off banked or rolled over by employees--by $36,345. In other words, the incentive quite literally paid for itself. However, there was no guarantee we could replicate those results in future years, and some of our business managers asked us to reconsider the program.
After taking time to listen to the pros and cons, though, I came to a simple conclusion: even if it stops paying for itself in the short term, the program has more significant value on a broader scale. It may be harder to measure, but I can see when my staff is energized, enthusiastic and loves coming to work. I know in my gut that the incentive is the right move for our bottom line, because we have employees who will work harder for this organization every day because they feel valued.
We have built an exceptional culture at U.S. Travel. Encouraging vacation use is a critical piece of that professional environment, one that has helped us repeatedly land on The Washington Post's and Washingtonian magazine's "Best Places to Work" lists.
An incentive like this may not be right for every business. What is important, though, is making the choice to encourage employees to take their time off. I can attest that vacation will have as positive an impact on business results as it will on individual employees.