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How to Encourage Your Employees to Take Time Off

Updated: Aug 16, 2023

A well-rested, motivated employee can be more productive and get more work done in a few hours, than a burned out employee can manage in an entire day.

Take Time Off

Professionals who take time off experience a myriad of positive effects, from improved productivity and performance to reduced exhaustion and increased motivation and inspiration. Paid Time Off (PTO) or vacation days are company benefits, like health insurance or a 401k plan. So employees should be pouncing on the idea of taking that time off, right? You would think so, but that’s not the case, unfortunately.

According to research from the U.S. Travel Association, Oxford Economics and Ipsos, in 2018, 55% of employees didn’t use all of their time off, leading to 768 Million unused days nationwide. Unfortunately, the U.S. has cultivated a busy, overworking culture.

With millions of people working from home due to the pandemic, professionals are taking even less time off. Working remotely makes it harder to set boundaries between work and personal life. This can result in the feeling that you should be working even when you’re “off” from work. Taking time off right now, even if you can’t travel to Miami for a long weekend, is critical for mental health.

A well-rested, motivated employee can be more productive and get more work done in a few hours, than a burned out employee can manage in an entire day. For workers to perform and feel their best, both in work and in their personal lives, they need to take time off.

One of the main reasons why workers don’t take time off is because they are worried about disappointing their boss, or, their teammates. That’s why it’s essential for employer leadership to take full responsibility for encouraging their employees to use the valuable mental health benefit of Time Off. Here are some ways companies who lead with empathy can encourage their teams to take Time Off, even in the state of a pandemic.

Practice what you preach and break the “always-on culture” (from the top)

An employee won’t feel comfortable taking time off if their boss is always glued to their computer. To break this culture of overwork, leadership needs to set a healthy example. If managers want their teams to use their Time Off, managers need to do the same.

Condemn vacation shaming

No one on a team should make another team member feel guilty for taking time off. Leadership needs to set the example here. Issue a zero-tolerance policy for vacation-shaming mentality and discussion.

Limit roll over and set deadlines

Many employees save up their vacation days because they know they can use them next year. Especially in 2020, when people face travel restrictions, they’d rather save the days for a year they can actually take a vacation. But various surveys and studies indicate that millions of PTO days go unused. To avoid this, institute a “use it or lose it” policy so employees feel the pressure to schedule their time off. Make it a requirement for employees to enter their PTO requests by a certain date.

Mandate time off with surprise company days off

If you notice employees won’t voluntarily take Time Off, force them to. Schedule a company-wide day to allow employees to shamelessly refresh. Plan these breaks around holidays to make them compatible with organic business rhythms (i.e. the Friday after Thanksgiving, the Friday before Presidents' Day, etc.).

Peter Jackson wrote for Fast Company that, “Nearly 70% of workers experience an increase in positive energy and mood after taking a vacation, and 60% feel more productive”.

Weave the prioritization of well-being into company culture

Because we know employees are reluctant to take time off, simply mentioning it within employment contracts is not enough. Consistently discuss the significance of prioritizing mental health during onboarding discussions, all-hands meetings, and reviews. You can even introduce a Slack channel dedicated to exchanging staycation ideas, virtual fitness classes, and other wellness information.

Encourage micro-vacations and short breaks

Sometimes it’s hard to encourage team members to take an extended vacation, especially when workloads are high and we face travel restrictions. But that doesn’t mean your team can’t take time off! Encourage your team members to take frequent short breaks from work, perhaps a three-hour break, weekly. This gives the team time to sleep in, take the afternoon off, or take time to do any activity that makes them feel refreshed and inspired. Sorbet gives teams the ability to schedule micro-vacations, aka scoops of time off, while also providing creative suggestions on how to make that time off more meaningful.

Set mental health metrics

Employees may feel nervous sharing their challenges with their boss. Surveying your team to pulse check their emotional state may give leadership the insights they need to better understand the workload and mental state.

Launch an employee wellness challenge

Many companies are launching challenges to encourage employees to use as much of their PTO as they need within a specific timeframe. Equipping teams with an employee wellness optimizer, like Sorbet, allows employees to better track and manage their PTO more effectively. Sorbet also offers creative staycation ideas that mimic the positive feelings you get from taking time off.

Rethink workplace perks

Pre-COVID-19, popular company perks included free booze and coffee, games, and common spaces. Now that people are working from home, these perks are not available to employees in the same way. Consider shifting the perks to something else, like meeting-free work hours, or covering the cost of fitness and wellness classes.

With the right collective leadership and approach towards mental health, your company can maintain a high-performing motivated team, instead of a burned-out one.

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