Communication essential: PTOpalooza

In 2018, the United States left 768 million vacation days on the table. That will change in 2021.

There are a lot of reasons for this, but all roads lead back to the pandemic. This read in The Atlantic talks about how we are gearing up to ‘vacation like the French’ … with one big if:

“… if our bosses will let us.”

I’d like to propose the opposite. I think bosses should encourage it. And I don’t mean by saying ‘hey, use your PTO days.’ Or by taking off for a month yourself and saying ‘see? If I can do it, you can do it.’

No, I mean by actually planning for it. Remember, this is the communication essentials blog. And helping employees use PTO time, supporting their mental wellness and encouraging balance so this can happen are essential. This year—and every year, really.

As communication leaders, we have to help prepare. Here are a few essentials to consider:

Communicate PTO days available … and set expectations that they should be used.

Model the behavior, which goes beyond taking the days off. That includes shutting down while on PTO, so employees and co-workers realize they can (and should) do the same, and not sending emails or texts to those on PTO.

Work with departments or teams to identify and prepare coverage for when employees are out. This might seem like an obvious move but it’s an easy one that gets overlooked. Trust me, employees are worried about the burden their PTO places on already busy co-workers. Relieve that pressure for them by outlining a plan for the team and making sure the person leaving on PTO knows there is one.

Build in a PTO offramp. You know the feeling. Rushing to get everything done the day before you leave. Then running home to get yourself ready—or help get your family ready. This usually results in little sleep and a vacation that starts with you burned all the way out. Make leaving a little easy by putting in an offramp checklist that can include:

  • A check-in meeting the morning of the last day
  • No meetings the afternoon of
  • No new assignments the day of
  • An email OOO that goes up that day to take the pressure of an immediate response

There are a lot of things we can do to help people use and enjoy their PTO. In a year where people are more ready to use it than ever before, we have a responsibility to make this a priority.