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Helping Employees Shut Down to Charge Up

Each year, billions of dollars in Paid Time Off (PTO) goes unused.

We know that disconnecting and stepping away is critical for our personal and professional wellbeing. Yet, we remain reluctant to take time off— which has only worsened as remote and hybrid work evaporated the thinning line between work and home.

As we near the middle of 2022 and the mid-mark of many PTO annual plans, what can organizations do to encourage their team to step back and sign off?

First, shift focus: PTO is a business objective.

Just as hitting a sales goal, securing funding, or improving a process is critical to an organization’s success, so is a well-rested, energized team. Time away from work, whether a hard stop at the end of the day or a multi-day vacation, is how we recharge.

By embracing PTO usage as a component of organizational health, organizations take an active role in driving employee wellbeing.

Next, set the expectation: excellence results from rest, not exhaustion.

Create a PTO best practice policy that identifies time off from work as a necessity. Provide guidelines to:

1. Encourage boundaries. Though flexible schedules may mean working hours overlap rather than align, everyone should have a clear time before work begins and a clear time after which work does not continue.

2. Require time away. State that PTO is required, and staff is expected to be unavailable during this time. Leaders should monitor PTO usage, address patterns of not taking time off, and open a dialogue with employees to troubleshoot usage obstacles.

3. Plan for the time off. Share tips on when to notify coworkers and clients of upcoming PTO, and when to send reminders. Outline steps for blocking off calendars, scheduling out-of-office messages, and removing apps from devices.

Lastly, model the behavior: we do what we see.

Few organizations have explicitly stated rules requiring 24/7 availability, yet the “always on” culture is prevalent. When emails are received and responded to at all hours of the day or Zoom calls are taking place from a beach, the message is clear: unplug at your own risk.

Leaders can send a different message by altering their own behaviors:

1. Avoid or schedule “after hours” emails. If an email must go out at an early or late hour, specify that a response is not expected outside of the recipients’ regular working hours.

2. Plan for PTO. Involve the team early in discussing when they would like to use time off and how to adjust workloads to ensure a vacationing employee is undisturbed and unconcerned while out of the office.

3. Be unavailable. A leader communicating and upholding their personal boundaries will be more powerful than any written or stated expectation.

For a customized approach to building a culture that embraces PTO, contact Kiwi Partners HR Services.

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