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Five Tips for Helping Employees Disconnect While Away

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The intent of accrued vacation is to provide employees paid time away to disconnect from work responsibilities, a necessity for a well-balanced and healthy life. Studies show that taking time off leads to greater productivity, less stress and more happiness. Yet, data indicates that Americans' vacation activity is declining. 

There are many reasons workers aren’t using vacation, one of which is work culture. Additionally, the impacts of COVID are contributing to lower levels of vacation use as travel is restricted or seems unappealing, dependent care responsibilities make time away difficult, and increased work responsibilities add complexities.

“There are many benefits to taking time away from work,” says Elizabeth Zacharias, Vice President for University Human Resources. “Especially during tumultuous times, I’m deeply concerned that our employees are not taking advantage of their paid time off benefits. Stepping away from work, for a week or a few days, can help decrease stress, recharge your mind and body, help you reconnect with people in your life—and return to work re-energized and more productive.” 

To encourage employees to take vacation or an extended break from work, especially now when there are few boundaries between work and home lives, managers should consider these tips to help set a work culture that supports time away to pause, rest and reset. 

  1. If an employee has a considerable amount of accrued vacation or if they are at their maximum 240 hours, sit down with them to discuss, encourage and identify near-term opportunities to take time away. 

    • Even if they don’t have plans to travel, encourage them to take extended weekends, a staycation or short breaks to practice self-care and reduce burnout.

  2. Help cross train or identify program/project team back-ups so when an employee is away, there is support in their absence.

  3. For extended time away (more than 2 weeks), help employees create a pre-vacation planner, as needed. Here’s a good example

  4. Establish team norms/expectations during vacations.

    • Set up a "shared vacation/time away" calendar for your team to see when colleagues are taking PTO/vacation.

    • Before leaving, remind colleagues and business partners when your time away is scheduled, and set email, Slack and phone accounts to away or auto-response with a designated point of contact for support.

    • Determine who can contact the employee directly, how and under what circumstances while on vacation (e.g., emergencies), etc.

    • Discourage employees from working or checking their emails while on vacation. If you see them online, gently remind them that they are supposed to disconnect.

    • Have employees block time off their calendar for the week of their return to allow “catch up time” and better manage the workload. 

  5. Model taking time away. As a manager, you play an important role in setting a supportive culture and employees are more likely to disconnect if they see you do the same. Plus, you will reap the benefits of vacation, too.

We hope these tips (download a pdf version), along with a little planning and clear expectations, will help you and your team take advantage of your paid time off benefits and enjoy a restful break.

For additional resources to foster a caring workplace culture, visit the Managing During COVID-19 page in the Manager Toolkit.

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