After recently examining the reality of unlimited paid time off (PTO), it got me thinking about the concept of ‘time off work’ as a whole. Having true time off work would (or should) mean that for the time that an employee has opted to take off, their responsibilities should be covered by another member of staff. However, the reality is, when people take PTO, they find themselves either cramming to do the work they are going to miss before they go, or rushing to catch up when they return.
A new study from Pew Research Centre confirms this, as it found that 48% of US workers have vacation days that go unused, and 49% cited that this was because they were worried they might fall behind on work. Another survey discovered that 40% of men and 46% of women said that just thinking about the ‘mountain of work’ they would return to after a holiday was a major reason why they hadn’t used vacation days.
What we are seeing is that paid vacation is translating to ‘the days someone spends away from the office’, when it should be ‘the time someone spends away’. PTO is meant to be getting paid for a day where you would be working – but if employees are doing the work they would have missed before and after their time off, it defeats the purpose. This isn’t time away, it’s just a shifted schedule.
Having true time away from work is vital for the wellbeing of employees and for ensuring that the quality of their output remains strong for the organization. Research shows that nearly three quarters of people who take time off work report better emotional and physical health, happier relationships, and improved productivity.
So how can employers create a culture of true time away from work which allows people to remove themselves and return with ease?
- Collaborate from the beginning – try not to have employees that are lone rangers on projects. A great way to think of this is by looking at theatre; every cast member will always have an understudy who knows how to do their role if need be. This same logic should be applied in the workplace, as it allows for developmental and mentoring opportunities for more junior staff members and relieves stress for the person taking time off.
- Set communication boundaries – when someone is taking time off, boundaries need to be in place so that the employee taking time away doesn’t have to always be checking their phone for any work emergencies. This can be done from an IT perspective, by setting it up so that all work-related communications are blocked for that time off, and instead are being redirected to the person who is overseeing the employee’s work in their time away.
- Briefing upon return – when an employee does come back to work, they should be coming back to a short, succinct brief from the person who has overseen their responsibilities to update them on the progress of their projects. This avoids the fear of returning to a mountain of work to do, and means that the employee has had the opportunity to truly disconnect, destress and enjoy their time away.
- For smaller companies, it may be more difficult to have staff who can take over someone’s responsibilities. And so, it is very important in this instance to ensure that as an employer, you are recognising and rewarding your staff for taking the time to pre-prepare their work before their vacation. And while larger companies may have more people, this doesn’t cover up the fact that large companies can tend to have a more competitive culture, and so staff can sometimes be territorial over their work and not want someone to have the opportunity to take credit for it.
It is not all down to employers, however. Employees should try to plan their time off as much in advance as possible so that this transition can be as smooth for the company as it is for them.
If you would like to discuss PTO policies and workplace culture strategies, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me at Brittany@orgshakers.com