Shifting Your Mindset Around Utilizing PTO

By Erin Reed

One year ago, as the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the lives of people around the world, many organizations quickly moved to a remote workforce model. We left the office space behind and transitioned to spending our days in Zoom meetings and writing emails to replace convenient face-to-face conversations.

For many employees, working remotely has resulted in a lack of separation between work and personal life. With no change of scenery, it can make it even more challenging to disconnect from work, leading some to feel like work is 24 hours a day. But still, after a year of this lifestyle, what have we changed to mitigate potential burnout? How have we adjusted our patterns to support our physical and mental health? What has been implemented at the organizational level to support a happier and more productive workforce?

With uncertainty still around the safety of traveling, many of us feel a lack of viable options for disconnecting from work. Instead, we work longer days, banking those PTO hours and waiting for a more “ideal” time to take a break. A study by the US Travel Association highlighted that Americans continue to leave hours of vacation time unused at the end of each year, with 768 million days left unused in 2018. With the pandemic further complicating PTO policies, it’s time to revisit the benefits of disconnecting from work and how we can support our teammates in navigating work-life balance.

Encourage your team members to utilize PTO.

As a leader, you hopefully have a good read on your direct reports. You are most likely aware of an employee’s current projects and stresses at work and may also have insight into the state of their physical or mental health. Acknowledging that the organization will stay afloat if someone on your team needs to take a personal day or a vacation can help that person feel approval for taking PTO. In the end, if this time allows the employee to be more satisfied and productive at work when they return, the whole team will benefit.

Stop waiting for that perfect moment for work to settle down.

If you can’t see the end of your to-do list, you’re not alone. There may never be an ideal time to take a few days away from work, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Planning your vacation can help you and your team prepare and help you feel more relaxed during your time away. Make sure to add your vacation time to the company calendar, even if you approve your own time off. Visibility of PTO on the calendar will help ensure everyone on your team is aware of your absence, and it helps you stick to your plan for some needed R&R.

Respect an employee’s request for time off.

As we discussed above, working from home is not the same thing as a vacation. Even if there is nowhere to travel to, employees should feel empowered to take a day to relax, refresh, or take care of their personal life. An employee shouldn’t feel guilty for requesting time off, even while working remotely. This past year has highlighted that we all have unique circumstances that deserve our thoughtful understanding. Planning for time off is ideal for preparing your team, but an absent employee shouldn’t cause massive disruption with the proper notification system in place. Your organization may even want to consider the addition of personal days to your organization’s PTO policy structure so that employees have the opportunity to prioritize their well-being.

As the pandemic slows, many organizations remain hopeful for returning to the workspace. However, with each opportunity, we will likely face new challenges. Don’t wait to shift your organization’s mindset around using PTO. Creating a culture that encourages employees to utilize their PTO will improve your workforce’s satisfaction and productivity, increasing your organization’s ability to retain talent.