Why I Spent $30,000 to Get My Employees Out of the Office

As CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, I had a problem.

I was managing a budget that included more than $350,000 in accrued vacation liability for the association's 60 employees, amassed over years of employees rolling over their paid time off. Even more than the financial liability, that meant my employees weren't using all their vacation time–the consequences of which are less quantifiable, but equally serious.

Change needs to begin somewhere. Last year, I challenged our 60 employees to use every last second of their paid time off. I wanted them to spend time with family, adventure somewhere new or work on the home improvement project they keep putting off. However they spent the time, I just wanted them out of the office. Employees who succeeded at the challenge received a $500 bonus.

The results were beyond expectations. Nearly all the staff qualified for the incentive, reducing our vacation time liability by nine percent and saving the association more than $36,000. What's more, as our liability went down, the staff's productivity and creativity went up as a result of taking time to recharge. U.S. Travel achieved its top legislative priorities, exceeded attendance and expectations at major events and made headlines with thought-provoking research. Not to mention the memories we gathered–I was regaled with stories and photos from employees who got married, took a once in a lifetime camping trip to the Rockies, met their grandkids for the first time and so much more.

It's the double bottom line–when your people succeed so does your business.

But America still has a problem. Americans are taking the least amount of vacation in nearly forty years. We have become a nation of work martyrs. In 2013, Americans left 429 million days unused and forfeited $52.4 billion in time off benefits. If workers took just one more day off each year, we would generate $73 billion annually for the economy.

According to our research, senior business leaders and HR professionals overwhelmingly agree that time off boosts employee performance, productivity and creativity while reducing sick time, burnout and turnover. Further, companies that encourage paid time off employ more people who are happier with their professional success compared to those companies that discourage it.

I've seen firsthand the value that time off delivers, and I want to share. We have a new project for America. Find time this year to shut down the computer, get out of the office and experience the benefits taking time off can deliver.

It's time to tackle Project: Time Off and experience the upside of downtime.