PTO - Paid Time OffSummer 2020 wasn’t a great year for vacation. In fact, 44% of workers didn’t use any PTO last year according to a recent survey. There are pent-up demands for a break and travel this summer. If you are anything like one of my clients, you may find out too late that most employees decided to take the same week off! Some organizations are struggling to manage the fine balance between allowing employees to take much needed time off and managing when and how it happens. 

With more people vaccinated against COVID-19 and the CDC re-opening the door to domestic flights, employers can expect a surge in requests for time off for this summer and fall. Are you ready to handle it? 

Here are six steps you can take to promote healthy vacation policies and practices in your organization.

1) Communicate PTO Plans

In a typical year, scheduling vacation time isn’t difficult. Employees make plans months in advance and take PTO at different times. With so few workers taking vacation last year, many are eager to take time off now. As a manager, your goal should be to make sure everyone takes vacation.

Touch base with your workforce. Start conversations around vacation planning. Figure out what employees have on their personal calendars and start coordinating work requirements to ensure continuity of operations.

2) Set Expectations on PTO

Before employees book a flight or rent a vacation home, evaluate what your operation needs. How many “hands-on-deck” are required as a minimum? Do you have busy periods that require “all hands on deck”? Share these expectations with employees.

Although some may be dreaming of a two-week break in the mountains, it might not be feasible this summer. If this is the case, suggest employees curtail their vacations to one week and be open to other breaks in the fall. Be prepared for tough conversations! It won’t be easy to convince employees to take shorter vacations especially if plans have already been made.

Require that before leaving, employees set up an out-of-office message with an alternative contact in case something urgent arises while they are out.

3) Use PTO as An Opportunity For Professional Development 

If you know of an employee going on vacation soon, approach that time as a cross-training opportunity for someone else on the team. This is an opportunity to develop new skills. Ask your employees before they leave on PTO to provide a list of tasks they perform each day, a list of upcoming deadlines, advice on solving any potential problems and a roster of important contacts. Your team will come out stronger and more prepared whenever a team member is out or leaves.

4) Reset PTO Practices Post-Pandemic

The Great Experiment in remote work in 2020 will have lasting effects. Make sure that you specify how much flexibility is allowed from now on. Can employees work from anywhere, at any time because of the collaborative tools available? Should work be done remotely while vacationing? What situations require employees to request (and log-in) PTO time? Answers to those questions are somewhat easier for non-exempt employees. Lines between work time and personal time have become very blurred for most exempt employees since March 2020. 

It is now time to reset expectations and provide specific guidelines on what constitutes PTO. One such guideline could be to re-affirm the need to request time off and not assume it will be approved. Another is to make sure PTO gets put in and used when employees are off. For example, unless employees are able to work a solid 4-hour period without  interruptions, PTO hours must be taken.

Conversely, the PTO policy (and practice) must draw clear lines: when on PTO, employees are not expected to attend Zoom meetings, text with colleagues or respond to emails. 

5) Tweak Your Use-It Or Lose-It PTO Policy

Most companies have a use-it-or-lose-it policy to prevent employees from accruing and cashing out paid time off when leaving for a new job. By allowing a roll-over period of a few months, employees have more time to use their PTO. They don’t feel compelled to use all PTO hours during the end of year holidays. It helps smooth out the vacation bump while keeping your finance manager happy!

5) Set a good example

Vacation time is necessary to stave off burnout and promote overall mental health — and that includes busy professionals and leaders. Set an example by scheduling, preparing and taking time off yourselves.