Tis’ the holiday season! But not all of your employees are feeling the joy. Unused vacation days are at a record high in the U.S., according to a survey of more than 5,000 workers conducted last year by market research firm GfK.

In an analysis of the GfK findings and related data, Oxford Economics calculated that Americans historically took 20.3 days of vacation each year up until 2000. After the new millennium began, vacation time began dropping, settling at just 16.2 days in 2015.

holidaysEmployees often stress about taking paid vacation time – especially during the winter holidays.

Workers may be taking less vacation time because the thought of missing work during such a busy period is anxiety-provoking. One survey by Healthline found that 62 percent of respondents said the holiday season was “very” or “somewhat” stressful for them.

This a real crisis for employees and companies, because vacation time can ease stress, refresh the mind and ultimately increase engagement and productivity.

HR has the ability to help by cultivating an environment that prioritizes work-life balance and encourages employees to take time off, even during the final weeks of the busy fourth quarter. Investing in your employees’ health and well-being not only creates a happier and more productive workforce now, but a more successful company down the line.

Here are some ways you can make the holiday season less stressful for employees.

Make it easy for employees to log holiday PTO time

Skip the headaches and endless rounds of emails by making it easy for employees to check their PTO balances and submit vacation plans. An HR system with employee self-service simplifies PTO processes while giving employees greater insight into and control over how and when they schedule vacation.

“Vacation time can ease stress and refresh the mind.”

Review scheduling to ensure coverage

Employees may be on vacation, but the work still needs to get done, and this worry can prevent employees from taking a well-earned holiday. Ease their concerns – and those of their managers – by using intuitive tools that help you improve scheduling across your organization. With a comprehensive view of when employees will be out as well as any critical talent gaps, you can better plan for coverage.

Hire seasonal staff

In some cases, you may need to hire seasonal staff to step in and keep the gears turning. In today’s “gig” economy it is much easier to find the skills you need on a contract or temporary basis. An online career center complete with resume screening and applicant tracking can help shorten recruiting and hiring processes without sacrificing quality.

Spread the holiday cheer

If your employees are under the impression that taking time off will reflect poorly on them, be sure to clearly communicate that using earned vacation time is not only allowed, but also encouraged. Stress that work should not be completed while people are on vacation. By creating a more PTO-friendly work culture, you can help ensure employees get the time off they deserve while increasing employee satisfaction and productivity.

Taking vacations to clear the mind is essential for employees to be happy, healthy and productive. Unfortunately, many workers fear taking vacation, especially during the busy holiday season. Use the steps above to help your team members take – and fully enjoy – their well-deserved time off.

Happy Holidays from all of us at PeopleStrategy!