7 ways to encourage employees to take paid time off

Here are ways to communicate the importance of vacations and encourage employees to take their paid time off

7 ways to encourage employees to take paid time off

Unused vacation days are costing US businesses at least $220 billion a year, according to a recent study from the US Travel Association. However, many employees still choose not to take their paid time off (PTO) despite showing signs of burn-out and suffering from reduced productivity.

Solving this problem requires a top-down approach to communicating the importance of PTOs in promoting efficiency and mental wellness. Here are seven ways that can help you encourage workers to use their vacation time.

Read more: Arianna Huffington: Taking time off is an investment in your leadership

1. Redefine vacations and communicate policies clearly

Managers must redefine what a “vacation” means and encourage workers to take days off for self-care, family time, and supporting their mental health instead just spending it on their couch at home. You can even inspire them to do something they’ve never done before like tap dancing, painting, or learning to play a musical instrument. 

The important thing is being clear about your company’s time-off policies. If an employee wants to travel out of town, for instance, maybe have a discussion around travel safety policies and its impact on your organization’s health guidelines.

“Being transparent about leave policies allows individuals to consciously weigh trade-offs and enables everyone to operate from the same set of principles,” says the Harvard Business Review (HBR) in a recent report.

2. Limit vacation rollover

Another strategy is to limit the amount of vacation time that can be carried over to the following year. A “use it or lose it” policy can prevent employees from hoarding PTO days and eventually burning out.

“While saving is generally a good thing, it's not always the case when it comes to PTO,” says Renato Profico, chief executive officer of time management app developer Doodle. “Oftentimes, those extra days and even weeks of vacation time sit there and collect dust, while employees work nonstop and burn out.”

3. Set a reasonable but strict deadline for PTO requests

Managers should set a hard deadline for requesting PTOs instead of asking employees to just plot their requests in your organization’s HR software through the end of the year. Ask employees to create a vacation plan and mark the due date for filing leaves on their calendars. This can help managers optimize workload delegation. Additionally, employees will become more conscious of scheduling their breaks.

“Make it mandatory,” says Profico. “While this might seem rigid or harsh, it’s actually for the benefit of your work force.  It ensures that they take time off, regardless of whether or not they can travel anywhere.”

Read more: Are your employees taking their summer vacation?

4. Discourage vacation shaming

A survey from travel company Skyscanner found that only 57% of 500 interviewed American workers said they use their PTO – and 58% of those who go on holiday said they experienced vacation shaming.

Vacation shaming is an alarming trend where coworkers and employers induce feelings of guilt among colleagues who take time off from work.

Nip this problem in the bud by actively communicating to leaders and staff that this practice will not be tolerated in your organization. Be vocal in meetings and emails about supporting employees who use their leave credits.

5. Encourage shorter breaks

Perhaps employees are not sure about what to do if they take the whole week off, so encourage them to take shorter breaks by extending their weekends or filing for a day off in the middle of the week for a breather. Even a half day’s rest can help them revitalize in the middle of a busy week.

You should also remind your team to use their family and medical leave if they are not feeling well. They can also use the time to consult with their doctors or to get vaccinated.

6. Lead by example and take your own time off

It is common for managers to forget about their own health.  Take that much-needed time off for your own wellbeing and inspire your team to do the same.

In an interview with HRD, Arianna Huffington says that self-care is a vital investment in leadership.

“I had bought into that collective delusion that in order to succeed, you just have to sacrifice your health,” says Huffington, recounting when she accidentally broke her cheekbone after collapsing from exhaustion.

Taking a break can help leaders improve their decision-making ability and be more creative and empathetic.

Read more: Vacation shaming: Are your staff being guilt tripped?

7. Communicate the benefits of taking a vacation from work

Ultimately, we circle back to redefining what a vacation is in a time of global health crisis.

It is essential to shift your team’s expectations towards “creative ways to relax using resources lying in plain sight,” says HBR.

Moreover, you can show statistics on the correlation between taking time off and improvements in mental health and work performance. Recovering from burnout and getting the space to breathe benefits employees and the people around them – especially their loved ones.

Lastly, motivate the employees to share memorable, fun, and meaningful moments from their time off. This is also a good way to connect and nurture camaraderie with coworkers even in a virtual setting.

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