- In a crisis like the coronavirus pandemic, many companies are struggling to stay afloat, which can make some employees feel scared or nervous to take their vacation days.
- Renato Profico, CEO of Doodle, says during these stressful times, it's more important than ever for employees to take some time off, and it's up to their boss to ensure they do so.
- Profico recommends leaders set a deadline for when employees have to submit their vacation requests, encourage impromptu days off for personal needs, and lead by example by taking vacation themselves.
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Vacations have many positive effects, from helping people sleep better and improving their mood to increasing productivity and reducing exhaustion. So, you'd think everyone would be jumping at the chance to take time off, right? Wrong.
According to a study from the US Travel Association's Project Time Off, 52% of Americans didn't even use all of their vacation days in 2017. As the CEO of Doodle, I wish I could say I'm surprised by this. But I'm not. The United States has a reputation for an overworking culture.
But amid the pandemic and the massive spike in virtual meetings in the last few months, I'd argue that taking time off from work must be a top priority. Company leaders need to take full responsibility for how they encourage their workforces to actively use their paid time off (PTO). So, I've outlined seven ways leaders can encourage their employees to take PTO during the pandemic.
1. Set a deadline
Don't just ask all employees to enter their PTO requests through the end of 2020 into the company's absence management tool (i.e. BambooHR, Absence.io, etc.). Make it mandatory and set a deadline for when it must be done.
While this might seem rigid or harsh, it's actually for the benefit of your workforce. It ensures that they take time off, regardless of whether or not they can travel anywhere. The purpose of time off is to unwind, decompress, refresh, and reflect.
2. Limit rollover
Oftentimes, employees will hoard their PTO days because they know it can roll over to the next year. While saving is generally a good thing, it's not always the case when it comes to PTO. Oftentimes, those extra days and even weeks of vacation time sit there and collect dust, while employees work nonstop and burn out.
To avoid burnout, which can be especially damaging right now, I recommend that organizations institute a 'Use it or lose it' policy so that employees proactively schedule time off for themselves. This makes it harder for them to burn out.
3. Discourage vacation shaming
Don't let anyone in the organization make anyone else feel guilty about taking time off. This starts at the top with leadership. The executive team needs to actively communicate this to department managers and let them know it won't be tolerated from them.
4. Encourage impromptu days off
If an employee has had a heavy workload for a considerable period of time, pay attention and encourage that employee to take an impromptu day off (perhaps on a Friday or Monday for an extended weekend). If an employee needs to move to a new apartment or house, but can't seem to find time in the week to visit potential places, encourage them to take a few days off to do what they need to do.
The key here is listening. Ask questions about their personal life. Get to know them. Then show them that you value, trust, and support them by giving them more autonomy and flexibility to manage their workloads. Allow them to manage their time in the way that best suits them so they can take care of themselves.
5. Lead by example
If you as a leader (department manager, middle manager, or a member of the executive team) want to encourage your employees to take time off regularly, then you need to take vacation yourself. .
I regularly take time off from work. And I don't feel guilty about it for one second. The exact opposite, actually. I feel more energized, motivated, and productive when I return from my holidays. That's what I want for my entire staff.
I also make a concerted effort to not answer emails during my time off. I hire smart people who are fully capable of keeping the business running smoothly while I'm out, and I trust them completely.
6. Make well-being part of your company's cultural values
Don't just mention PTO days in employment contracts. Actively discuss the importance of mental health and well-being during the onboarding stage and in your all-hands meetings.
We have an Employee Culture Committee, whose sole purpose is to develop content, activities, and events that help our employees embody our values at work and in their personal lives. Before the pandemic hit, we were planning our regular annual retreat to an international destination, where our entire staff from five countries would fly out to meet, explore the locale, and bond with another.
Because working from home and being in quarantine has been somewhat taxing on everyone, we decided to host a virtual retreat. Over the course of three work days, we had employees block off half-days to take part in group activities, like a virtual escape room and a pub quiz. We paired up people with colleagues they may not usually work with or haven't met because they're located in a different country. And everyone was sent calendar invites to block off these times in their calendars so they wouldn't work or book meetings.
7. Get creative and don't be afraid to brag
It's OK to be happy about taking time off. There's no reason or need to feel guilty about telling people how amazing, fun, and relaxing your time off was. Share photos and videos, and tell funny stories and memorable moments. This not only shows your staff that you value PTO, but also that you want to forge more meaningful connections and relationships with them.
Make sure you encourage your staff to do the same. If you know a team member went on a camping trip, for example, ask them to see photos and ask specific questions about their experience. This will break down some of the glass walls and barriers that often exist between senior management and the rest of the workforce.
Also, share stats about the connection between time off and mental health. This will help employees see how taking time off can make a direct impact on their mental health and well-being. At the end of the day, it comes down to trusting your employees. Trust your teams to get their work done in the times that work for them (i.e. tuning into their productivity 'flow'), while also allowing them the psychological safety and freedom to enjoy their non-work lives.
Renato Profico is the CEO of the leading enterprise scheduling tool, Doodle. A qualified executive with 20 years of professional experience in digital companies, he most recently held the position of CEO for four years at a leading job platform network in Switzerland, JobCloud. In addition to his extensive leadership experience, Profico is an expert in B2B sales, marketing, business development, customer relationship management, and organizational structure and development.
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