BambooHR Blog

Creating a Don’t-Feel-Guilty-To-Take-Time-Off Culture


I can’t believe summer is just about over. My kids got on a school bus last week and before I knew it, a whole school year began—complete with backpacks, homework and tests. Thankfully my kids are geared up and ready, and I believe it’s largely due to the several trips we were able to take together as a family this summer. They had their fun, and now they’re ready to work hard.

It’s much the same at work. That’s why we all love our PTO benefits. We know how important it is to step away from the office and recharge. We use those days off to travel, spend with family or even just relax a day away. No matter how we choose to manage time off, we’re getting away from your everyday stuff.

But did you know a lot of workers—about forty percent of Americans based on a study done by Travel Effect—didn’t use the paid time off (PTO) they earned last year? In fact, a total of 429 million vacation days went unused last year. Seems crazy, right? Why wouldn’t people take the time off they’ve earned?

If you’re a manager or supervisor or in HR, you need your people to take their time off. Why? Taking time away from the office often shows increased innovation, morale, retention and engagement, as well as lower health-care costs. So why did 17 percent of the managers in the study say that they think employees who take their leave isn’t as dedicated as those who don’t? Clearly they didn’t get the memo.

Here are four ways can you encourage your people to take use their PTO:

1. Be happy for them. 34 percent of workers said their managers neither encouraged nor discouraged them using their PTO, but you need to be encouraging them to use it. Make sure your message is loud and clear. When your people are using time off, share with the rest of the team and encourage them as well. When team members see that using their time off is acceptable, more will feel they can use theirs and not be penalized for it.

2. Be organized. Make sure you’re staying organized and tracking who’ll be out when (HR software can help with this) so you’ll be able to get the day-to-day stuff done.

3. Limit rollover. You can also put some limitations on PTO rollover to encourage your people to take their time. What if you don’t allow unused days to roll over until they’ve used X amount of days. Even if people don’t have a trip to take, they might take a much-needed break from work to clean out the garage or build that fence they’ve been meaning to get to.

4. Just find a way to make it work. Four out of ten American workers said that while their employer supported them taking their PTO, their heavy workload discouraged them from using it. Yes, we know how hard it can be when team member is gone. But this a great opportunity to have the team help out. Of course, some prep is important for the person leaving. He may need to explain processes or outline instructions on what to do. Some people can automate work so that it’s all set up and ready for others to step in. It will take some foresight, some planning and structured outlines, but you’ll be glad you have it for when the time away unexpected.

I have a friend who worked for a company that offered unlimited PTO. While it sounds like an awesome perk, he said he always felt guilty if he wanted to use it. So the big perk when he took the job felt more like a catch-22: If he used it, he’d be looked down upon and when he used it, he always felt he had to check in and stay back to do work while the rest of his family was off and running around Disneyland.

Your responsibility as a manager or HR should include letting your people take the time off they deserve—and will help your company’s culture. Yes, it might be a bit harder in the moment, but the rewards will more than make up for it. So go out there and encourage your people to use their PTO and while you’re at it, plan to use some of your own. Your productivity and culture will thank you for it!

Photo by Thomas Galvez/CC BY

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