This article was updated on September 6, 2018.

Although vacations are commonly associated with summer, there are plenty of opportunities for employees to take time off. So HR teams should develop communication plans to inform employees of their vacation policy and encourage them to take vacation no matter what time of year it is.

After all, time off is good for employees and organizations. According to Harvard Business Review, employees who take vacation are 6.5 percent more likely to get a promotion or a raise and are 31 percent more productive at work. Still, people aren't taking vacation like they could be. Project: Time Off reports more than half of U.S. employees did not take all of their vacation in 2015, totaling $61.4 billion in forfeited benefits. And, nearly 80 percent of employees reported that if they had more support from their supervisor, they would likely take more time off, according to data findings from Project: Time Off.

Even if your business has a vacation policy that encourages employees to use it, employees may still report receiving mixed messages about time off from their managers. But it is possible employees are misinterpreting these messages — after all, 31 percent of employees said they put pressure on themselves to not take vacation. If everyone wants to take vacation at the same time in August, some requests will be rejected, sure, but most organizations will continue to operate. With the right communications plan and a proactive approach, HR leaders can address these issues and encourage employees to take all or most of their vacation time, which benefits both parties.

This kind of communication should contain the following principles:

Communicate Proactively

Employees generally tend to schedule vacations well in advance. If your HR team is not proactive, you may resort to sending frantic, reactive emails at the end of a fiscal year encouraging employees to take vacation. But how many employees are going to take time off based on an email from HR with two weeks to go at the end of a year, quarter or month? Very few.

HR teams should devise communications that are sent throughout the year — perhaps at least quarterly — pointing employees to their vacation policy and reminding them to plan ahead and adhere to any notice requirements set forth in the policy. Consider sending notices in the winter to encourage employees to start planning for summer vacations. Likewise, communications regarding time off during the holidays should provide employees and their managers with ample time to plan and prepare.

Communicate Benefits to Both Employees and the Organization

HR teams should talk about the benefits of taking time off with employees, managers and the organization overall. Consider sharing a link to expert Shawn Achor's TED Talk, "The Happy Secret to Better Work," which talks about the connection between taking time off, happiness and productivity. Of course, HR should include how it benefits the business since most employees want to contribute to the success of their organization as well. When employees take vacation, everyone wins.

Cultivate a Culture That Supports Vacations

Many employees may feel pressure not to take vacation, so HR leaders should take proactive steps to try to eliminate any gaps between written vacation policies and unwritten rules between employers and managers. Encourage managers to set an example by utilizing their vacation time. HR leaders should also train managers on vacation policies, and encourage employees to speak to HR if they have concerns about taking time off.

Employees should clearly understand your organization's vacation policy. Businesses and employees have much to gain from employees taking vacation, recharging their batteries and returning to work even more productive then before they left.

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