Career Advice

Managers, Help Your Team Take The PTO They Need — Here’s How!

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Attention all managers, your team may be burnt out. While you may not be micromanaging or piling too much work on their plates, a new survey from Glassdoor shows that American workers are forfeiting half of their vacation time. It’s true! Tthe average U.S. employee (of those who receive vacation/paid time off) has only taken about half (54 percent) of his or her eligible vacation time/paid time off in the past 12 months.

And while this may be positively affecting your success metrics, it may be detrimental in the long term.

Unused vacation days compound stress, taking a toll on workers’ well-being and the well-being of their families. In addition, unused vacation time can reduce productivity and innovation at work. And managers are at the front lines of preventing this type of burnout by setting a positive example of work-life balance and encouraging employees to take time off.

However, many leaders and executives fail to model healthy behaviors. Yahoo’s  Melissa Mayer said she used to do 130 hours workweeks, General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt claims to have worked 100-hour weeks for a quarter century, and Apple CEO Tim Cook gets up at 3:45am every morning. It’s no surprise employees take cues from this.

According to Project Time Off, 65% of employees reported that they hear nothing, mixed messages, or discouraging messages about taking time off from managers, while 80% said if they felt fully supported and encouraged by their boss, they would be likely to take more time off. Plus, Millennials are the generation most likely to forfeit time off, even though they earn the least amount of vacation days.

Work martyrdom and the always-on nature of the Internet-driven work environment may be contributing to America’s vacation deficit.

Let’s break down the problem:

  • Two-thirds of employees who have taken a vacation (66%) still worked while away from work. (Harris Poll by Glassdoor, Vacation Time Realities, April 2017)
  • 29% employees on vacation are contacted by a co-worker about a work-related matter. (Harris Poll by Glassdoor, Vacation Time Realities, April 2017)
  • 25% employees on vacation are contacted by their boss about a work-related matter. (Harris Poll by Glassdoor, Vacation Time Realities, April 2017)
  • 47% of workers surveyed have felt shame at work for taking their well-deserved vacation. (Alamo Rent-A-Car, Vacation Shaming in the Workplace, March 2016)
  • 47% have felt the need to justify taking their vacation days. (Alamo Rent-A-Car, Vacation Shaming in the Workplace, March 2016)

So how can managers encourage employees to take time off and improve work-life balance?

  1. Encourage company leaders to mention their own vacations and publicly encourage others to take theirs as well.
  2. Position managers’ vacations as growth opportunities for staff.
  3. When planning performance goals and projects, build in vacation time considerations. Simply asking,“Who is going to be on vacation this quarter?” can help set expectations for a project team.
  4. Provide guidelines for the notification time required before vacations, particularly for longer absences.
  5. Help employees to plan for vacation coverage, and encourage them to support colleagues during their vacations.
  6. Set clear expectations around answering email and phone calls on vacation. Encourage employees to set out-of-office replies or use an app such as Thrive Away, which deletes emails received during vacation.
  7. Plan for re-entry. Returning to hundreds of emails and a burgeoning task list is no fun. Anticipate the amount of time employees will need to catch up, and schedule projects accordingly

Constantly rewarding or honoring staff who burn the candle at both ends and don’t take vacations can lead those who value work-life balance and family time to feel ashamed of their desires and set up for mediocre performance reviews compared to overachievers. Working hard doesn’t have to mean working long hours.

Remember, creating a vacation-friendly culture is important for employees’ well-being, since multiple studies have linked the practice of taking vacations to good health. Healthy employees are more likely to be productive and happy employees.

LEARN MORE! Need help managing your team’s PTO? Download our new eBook on

 Effectively Managing Employee Paid Time Off!

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