If the past couple of years have allowed cabin fever to take hold, you’re not alone. Qualtrics reveals that only about a quarter of employees used all their paid time off last year. To save money and stay healthy, many Americans haven’t had a real vacation in years. Making things more difficult, poorly defined work-from-home protocols, the fear of looking like a slacker, and not wanting to come back to a huge pile of work often prevent employees from fully taking time off.
According to a tourism study published by Sage Journals, taking time off is vital for your mental health and overall satisfaction with life. When joy is increased and stress is reduced, health benefits like reduced risk for heart disease, improved sleep, and better general well-being result.
The benefits of employees taking work time off are good for a company, too. Employees work better and feel better about their jobs when they are healthy and rested. The Society for Human Resource Management reported that 78% of managers agreed that time off improved employees’ focus. 81% further agreed that PTO helped alleviate symptoms of work burnout. This, of course, is also good for a company’s bottom line.
Fortunately, the U.S. Travel Association reports that travel spending is finally back to pre-pandemic levels. It shows a deep desire to take work time off and have a much-needed vacation in another city or country. However, with increasing amounts of employees wanting to take time off, HR managers are still adapting to processing high volumes of PTO requests.
Continue reading to learn the right strategies for successfully getting work time off so you can disconnect without leaving your team to scramble.
- The average employee uses only 18 out of 24 PTO days each year.
- 31% of employees don’t receive paid PTO at all.
- 78% of managers agree that employees who take time off return more focused and productive.
- Taking time off is important for psychological and physical health.
How Can a Person Take Time Off From Work?
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the law doesn’t require employers to provide paid time off or sick leave. Therefore, there are two types of leave at work: paid or unpaid. The options that are available depend on the individual employer’s benefits, policies, and the contract between them and the employee.
Examples of Paid Time Off (PTO)
According to Zippia, employees earn about 24 days of paid time off each year, but they only use about 18 of these days. When an employee uses their PTO, they can expect to receive regular compensation from their employer.
- PTO: This is an umbrella term used to describe both vacation time and sick time as one. Some companies offer a fixed amount of PTO, like two weeks, or unlimited PTO.
- Vacation Days: These are generally given immediately as part of employment or earned over time.
- Sick Days: The number of sick days you have generally accrues over time with hours worked. This form of paid time off is used when you or a family member is sick, preventing you from being able to work.
- Holiday Pay: Some companies elect all or certain holidays as company-wide paid days off. An employer’s HR department should have a calendar of which holidays offer Holiday Pay.
- Bereavement Leave: This type of PTO is used when a close family member passes away, and the employee needs time off from work to take care of personal matters.
- Maternity/Paternity Leave: This is an extended amount of paid time off when an employee has a new child. The amount of time provided varies and depends on the employer’s policy. However, for federal employees, The Federal Employee Paid Leave Act (FEPLA) requires 12 weeks of paid time off.
- Sabbatical: This type of paid leave is often available within the education field. Sabbaticals are when an employee is given a determined amount of paid time off to explore their interests, do research, or continue their education.
- Voting Time: Some employers choose to offer their employees a few hours of paid leave time so they can vote in local and presidential elections.
- Jury Duty: In some states, jury duty pay laws dictate whether an employer must provide compensation for an employee who has been summoned for jury duty. It is up to the discretion of other employers if they offer this as an opportunity for compensation or not. For more information about your state, visit JuryDuty101.com.
Examples of Unpaid Time Off
A report by Zippia states that up to 31% of U.S. employees don’t receive PTO. This means these employees are not compensated when they take time off from work. For this reason, it’s wise to anticipate gaps in payment so you can save up money before taking unpaid time.
- Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): Under FMLA, the U.S. Department of Labor guarantees that employees of qualifying employers can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid—but job-protected—medical leave to care for themselves or their families.
- Military Leave: If you become an active duty member of the military while employed, you are entitled to employment for a certain amount of time. This type of leave protects your job and negates any perceived job abandonment.
- Civic Duties: Many employers must approve unpaid time off for an employee reporting for civic duties, like jury duty.
- Leave of Absence: When all forms of PTO and vacation time have been exhausted, some employers offer an unpaid leave of absence.
- Furlough: Employee furloughs occur when a company needs to respond to a financial or operational emergency. Rather than laying employees off to save money, employers can choose to place employees under a temporary unpaid, but job-protected furlough status.
5 Steps for Getting Work Time Off Approved
1. Know Your Company’s PTO Policy
Does your amount of vacation or personal time accrue from hours worked? Did you automatically receive two weeks of PTO when they hired you? It may seem straightforward, but the first step in getting work time off approved is clearly understanding what you have available to you and when. There are also three different forms of PTO, as Ryan McCostlin of HR Party of One explains: annual allotment, accrual bank, and unlimited. It’s important to know which of these types your company offers.
2. Submit the Request During an Appropriate Time
When planning to submit a PTO request, be sure to do so when it’s appropriate. If the work culture is tense or productivity is behind schedule, wait until the situation has improved. When you do submit the request, be mindful of any upcoming deadlines, projects, transitions, or anything else that could negatively impact the business in your absence.
“I know the company has been under tense pressure the last few months. It’s been great to see productivity turn a corner, and my team is optimistic about smooth sailing going forward. I’d like to take this opportunity to submit a request for some work time off next month.”
If you have a pre-planned vacation coming up and you’re starting with a new employer or speaking with recruiters, it’s also important to be upfront about your plans. “I will say that it’s better to let an employer know ahead of time or that recruiter ahead of time if you’re working with a staffing agency and they’re gonna submit you . . . make sure that you’re being upfront about that timeline,” says RecruitingMaven, a YouTube career advice expert and professional recruiter.
3. Schedule Time Off in Advance as Much as Possible
Arkady Itkin an attorney who works on employment cases advises, “If you know that you have a plan, let your employer know sooner than later, because in many jobs, if not most jobs, when you don’t give notice to the employer that you’re going to be absent . . . it’s going to create extra stress and extra unexpected problems where it could have been easily avoided by giving your employer a little more time.”
Try to schedule any work time off as far in advance as possible. This rule holds especially true for the times of the year many submit PTO requests, such as the holidays. The earlier you get the request in, the better your manager and team can anticipate your absence and plan accordingly. It also gives you enough time to finish any projects or tasks before you leave.
4. Establish a Plan for Workflow and Provide a Recap
If there are any upcoming projects or tasks you’re overseeing, provide a status recap before leaving for PTO. If you’ll need certain team members to cover those tasks in your absence, set a workflow with clear communication and be sure everyone is aware.
“Mary will be overseeing Project X in my absence. Project X is 55% complete, and we’re currently working on ABC for it. She’ll make sure we remain on target for launch and she’s been advised to contact me in case of any issues.”
Be sure to provide an update to any of your active clients or partners outside of the company as well. It can be tempting to just let the email auto-responder indicate your absence, but avoid this tactic. Use this email to let them know you’ll be out of the office, provide the date you’re returning, and tell them who they can reach while you’re away. As productivity expert Mike Vardy explains, “It’ll also reduce the number of emails sitting in your inbox when you get back because you’re giving them more information.”
5. Get Caught Up on Work Before Leaving
If anything is currently in progress, try to bring it to a stable place or wrap it up as much as possible before submitting or taking PTO. Doing so will help ensure that your team won’t have to scramble to pick up where you left off when you leave. It also helps you fully disconnect from work and your team.
“I’d like to submit a request for some time off over the holiday next week. My clients are all in good standing and Project X just finished up, so it would be a good time for me to take some time off.”
Jacquelyn Smith with Insider describes a few helpful tips for getting caught up before leaving:
- Make several checklists (one for family vacation planning, one for the week before you leave, and one for the week you return).
- Look one month ahead of your PTO return to anticipate any needs while away.
- Contact your high-priority clients or partners in advance to inform them of your plans.
Be Intentional With Your Time Off
To get the most from your approved vacation and personal time, be intentional about it. Use that work time off wisely and purposefully to ensure you’re getting the maximum personal benefits. Doing so will help you to feel as recharged as possible while setting you up for optimum success when returning to work.
Tips for Maximizing PTO
- Listen to your body: Do you need to go for a run? Sleep in? Watch movies all day? Listen to what your body truly needs and be sure to prioritize that.
- Handle any errands or tasks: Has there been something important you’ve been meaning to get done but just haven’t had the time to do? Tackle those items on your to-do list first. Doing so will give you the peace of mind to fully relax for the rest of your time off.
- Unplug and disconnect: If you’re still checking your phone and email every hour, you’re not recharging. Truly give yourself a mental reset by disconnecting as often as you can so you can enjoy being in the present.
Avoid Logging Back In Right Away
It can be tempting to make yourself available immediately when you return from vacation. While you were away, you may have thought that your team was struggling in your absence or that projects were going awry, and your anxiety may lead you to jump right back in. These are valid concerns. However, avoid the impulse to set your status to “available” right away. Giving yourself a few extra hours or half of a work day to get caught up can be crucial for transitioning back in.
Tips for a smooth return:
- Don’t set your status or availability to “active” right away.
- Block a few hours out in your calendar for time to catch up.
- Avoid revealing the precise moment you’ll be returning.
Finding it hard to take time off? You’re not alone. Continue reading to learn Why 55% of Americans Are Saying “No” to Time Off in 2022.