Let’s face it: you probably need a break. So, you look at booking a week-long tropical beach vacation. But one problem keeps nagging at you in the back of your mind: your workload.
While there are several reasons why people are hesitant to PTO, one of the biggest is because they feel like they have too much on their plate or no one to hand off the work to. We know PTO is necessary to help prevent burnout, stress, and employee turnover. But it’s up to employers to set the tone and create an environment that allows employees to take PTO—in culture, mindset, and practice.
Let’s explore five ways employers can create a better employee PTO experience.
How companies can make it easier for employees to take PTO
There are several measures managers can take to make it easier for employees to take PTO, from preparing their team members for departure to respecting their boundaries while on PTO.
Prepare colleagues for departure
Employees and managers can work together to prepare other team members and colleagues for their PTO. Here are some actions they can take:
- Create an out-of-office calendar invite to notify colleagues of their PTO days and add it to their team calendar or share it with other stakeholders.
- Leave clear instructions in your email responder on who to contact if a colleague needs something while you’re out on PTO.
- Communicate status updates with your manager or project stakeholders ahead of time and well in advance (especially if you are taking a large chunk of PTO). Create a document, have a meeting, or film a Loom video walking through each project so everyone knows the project status at any given time.
- Work with your manager to assign a point person to take over your workload.
The more proactive you are, the more employees will feel reassured that their projects are in good hands when they leave for PTO. This mitigates stress and helps employees resist the urge to check their email or Slack when they are out of the office.
Help employees wind down their workload
The last thing an employee needs is to be assigned another project when trying to tie up loose ends before their PTO. And this starts with communication. Reminders from employees to managers are a subtle yet powerful tool for winding down their workload. If managers know their employees’ upcoming PTO, they can reroute and prioritize requests. Managers should take projects off the departing employees’ plate by assigning the task to another team member or communicating that the project will have to wait until the employee returns. Managers should help their employees prioritize their tasks if a last-minute project arises.
The idea is for employees to leave for PTO feeling in a good place about their workload so they can leave on PTO feeling stress-free.
Encourage employees to take PTO and remind them when they’re not
PTO should be encouraged and celebrated rather than something employees feel guilty for taking. A company’s attitude toward PTO is a direct result of the company’s culture around PTO. Suppose a company has a culture that encourages work-life balance and PTO. In that case, employees are much more likely to take it than a company that stigmatizes employees for taking PTO. Promoting and enforcing PTO policies starts at the top with leadership and managers. Employees are much more likely to take PTO if they see their manager or executives take it.
That said, managers can keep their employees accountable for taking PTO and encourage a healthy work-life balance. Managers are role models and should set the tone for their team by taking PTO themselves; employees will feel more comfortable taking PTO if they see their manager taking it. PTO should be a regular conversation topic during 1:1 meetings and annual reviews. If employees have not taken PTO, their manager should nudge them to take some time off.
Respect employees while they are on PTO
According to our 2023 report, Biased, Burdensome, and Burned Out: The Real Story of Unlimited Paid Time Off, three in four employees said they are expected to work while on PTO. The whole idea of PTO is time away from work, and employees can’t do that if their managers expect them to work. Contacting employees while on vacation causes them more stress, which makes it harder for them to disconnect from work fully. This makes it harder for employees to come back feeling rested and rejuvenated.
Make it less tempting for them to be on call and disconnect by only contacting them if necessary. Nothing is so urgent that you need to contact them. If you set up a good hand-off process before your employees’ PTO, there should be no reason to contact them.
Create a company culture that encourages PTO
It’s not just enough to say that your company encourages PTO. You have to show it. Employees are more likely to take PTO if they see their managers and leadership take their PTO. Reiterate a culture of work-life balance and that rest is productive. Taking PTO helps employees be more creative and effective in their roles, something they can’t be if they are always on the brink of burnout.
PTO policies must also be inclusive. Policies like unlimited PTO can be biased, as decisions are based on manager discretion, and in most cases, lead to employees taking less PTO. Inclusive PTO programs, like floating holidays or convertible benefits, ensure employees are on an equal playing field.
Make it easy for employees to take PTO
You must set the tone if you want your employees to take more PTO. Create an environment where employees feel comfortable taking time off and know their colleagues will take care of their work while away.
Download our ebook, Creating a Positive PTO Culture, to learn how your company can support employee well-being and happiness.