How to encourage more PTO and prep employees for vacations

We’re all about quality of life here at Loop. Our earplugs help people to reduce unwanted sounds that can affect their mental health and wellbeing. 

But we know that’s not the only thing that can affect quality of life. We need to approach it from all angles – both at work and at home. We always try to encourage our team to live their best life, whatever that means for them. It could be traveling the world (on vacation or while working as part of our workaway policy), taking time out to do the things they love, or working in a way that better suits them.

And you know what we’ve found? Happier employees are more productive employees. Vacations are a tool, just like any other, to get the most out of your team. 

But sometimes it can be difficult to encourage employees to take vacations – and it can be tricky for businesses to manage workloads when employees go on vacation. So, here’s our guide to everything we’ve learned about stress-free vacations, for employees and employers alike.

Employee vacations: current state of play

We all know that feeling you get on vacation, of blissful relaxation – no matter how stressed you might have been feeling before you went on vacation, once you’re there, all the worries of your everyday life seem to melt away.

Well, it’s no different for your employees. 

Work-life balance is a key issue for many employees today, with an enormous number of workers reporting that they’re burnt out at work. In fact, one study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that nearly half of all employees (41%) felt burnt out at work.

And when staff feel burnt out? They can’t perform at their best. They may suffer from low morale; be less engaged with their work, colleagues, and the business as a whole; are likely to make more mistakes; and they may even leave their job.

One way to improve the work-life balance for employees and help to avoid burnout? Paid time off. 

And yet, not enough Americans are taking all of their PTO. Unlike in Europe, where there are strict regulations around the number of vacation days employees must take, there are no such guidelines in the USA. And as a result, 42% of US workers haven’t taken a vacation in the last 12 months.

Why’s it so important that employees take vacations?

Is it really such an issue if workers haven’t taken a vacation in a year? In a word: yes.

We’ve already mentioned work-life balance. Taking vacations allows employees to ensure that the scales are more even when it comes to work and play, giving them time to refresh and re-energize. 

And they can even improve our physical health. One study found that vacations reduce the risk of heart disease. Researchers tracked their subjects over a nine-year period, and found that those who took more frequent vacations lived longer, healthier lives, and that men who didn’t take a vacation for several years in a row were 30% more likely to have heart attacks.

Employee vacations, in a nutshell, make your workers healthier and happier. Staff who take time off report feeling less stressed, less anxiety, and reduced depression. 

And research has found that employees who are happier are more productive. The University of Oxford discovered that happier employees are 13% more productive – and they don’t need to spend any more hours at work than their less happy colleagues. They’re just able to get more done in the time they spend at work.

Another study by Mark Rosekind of Alertness Solutions looked more directly at the effects of vacations on productivity. He found that the respite effect of a vacation can increase performance by 80%, and that the reaction times of employees returning to work after a vacation increased by 40%.

It’s clear that employee vacations benefit everyone. So, how can you ensure that employees take their vacation time, and the business doesn’t suffer from any tasks they leave behind?

Prepping for vacations

The first step is understanding the barriers to your team taking PTO. If you find that your employees haven’t taken their full PTO allowance, it could be for a variety of reasons, such as:

  • They might feel like they have too much to do to take any time off
  • They don’t have anyone to hand the work over to
  • They’re worried their manager will think they’re not a hard worker if they take a vacation
  • They think they might be overlooked for promotions
  • They can’t afford to go on vacation
  • They’re worried they won’t be able to relax when they’re away

Here are some ways you can alleviate those worries, and put plans in place so employees can fully switch off while they’re on vacation.

Normalize talking about workload

The sooner you understand how many tasks your team has on their plate, the sooner you can help them to restore their work-life balance. 

When you know what’s happening in your team, you can better plan how tasks are divided between your team members, to avoid any one person feeling overwhelmed to the point they can’t imagine taking any time off.

Make a vacation handover plan

One of the top reasons that employees don’t take vacation is that they think they have too much work to do, and there’s no one else who can do their job.

Of course, no matter what your employees’ workloads look like, it’s likely there’s going to be some tasks that still need to be done while they’re away. So it’s important to understand what needs to be done and who can do it.

Before an employee takes a vacation, it’s important to understand what tasks are truly urgent, what can wait, and who will be responsible for what while they’re away. While it’s important to ensure that urgent tasks aren’t ignored, it’s also crucial that one person taking a vacation doesn’t add to another person’s workload.

Ensure you have a process in place for vacation handovers to ensure that no essential tasks are forgotten about while someone’s away for a week or two. Finding someone in advance who can cover the tasks means that they can make space for it within their own workload, and employees can relax on vacation knowing that the most important tasks are taken care of.

Normalize taking vacations

We know that vacations can improve team productivity. But some employees may still be reluctant to take time off if they don’t see anyone else doing it. They might think that their employer doesn’t want them to take vacations, or that it might make them look like they’re not dedicated to their work.

That’s why it’s important that your business puts out the message that vacations are important. Line managers and business leaders should lead by example by taking their PTO. They should also check with their employees on a regular basis, encouraging them to use their full PTO allowance.

Set boundaries

Of course, there’s no use in line managers taking vacations if they’re still replying to emails while they’re away. 

Again, lead by example here and set boundaries that show there’s no expectations to still work while on vacation – and that no one will get in touch with employees while they’re away, either.

Stress that employees shouldn’t check their work emails, or take their work phone on vacation. They should also put an out of office email on, indicating who people should get in touch with for urgent enquiries, and when they’ll be back to respond to non-urgent requests.

Encourage regular breaks

One vacation a year isn’t likely to be enough to avoid burnout if someone is feeling overwhelmed at work. It’s also important to take regular breaks throughout the working day and week.

Inspire employees to get outside for a walk at lunchtime by arranging a group outing, introduce after-work yoga classes and social events to help them wind down after a long day, and generally encourage staff to get away from their desk during the day.

How to incentivize employees to take vacations

Even with all of these measures in place, sometimes employees still won’t take their PTO. So, a little incentivization might be needed.

Some businesses have even introduced bonuses or rewards for those employees who do use their full allowance, to incentivize workers to take more vacations. Companies like Bamboo HR who offer Paid Paid Vacation have reported that not only do employees return to work more refreshed and more productive, but that it’s also a fantastic recruitment asset, with prospective employees reporting that it shows the company cares about its staff.

Another option is to switch up your working structure to encourage more days off. You could adopt a four-day work week, for example, or an eight-day fortnight, ensuring that the whole company takes a day off every week or fortnight. 

Another option is to implement a ‘use it or lose it’ policy. Rather than letting employees roll their PTO over to the next year, they’ll lose any remaining days if they don’t use them before the end of the work year. This ensures that everyone in the business takes an adequate amount of vacation time – but line managers should stay on top of how many days each team member has left, to ensure that the whole team doesn’t take their remaining days off in a panic at the end of the year.

Encourage more vacations and increase team productivity

Here at Loop, we care about work-life balance. And vacations are a huge part of that. It can be difficult to get employees to take PTO sometimes, but creating a culture that encourages vacations and downtime will ensure your employees feel supported to take their PTO. At the same time, staying on top of workloads and creating handover plans will reduce the stress of thinking there’s too much work to do to take a vacation. 

Plus, your team members will feel more refreshed, engaged and be more productive when they come back to work: it’s a win-win situation.

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