There are so many important reasons why employees need time off work that we’ll have a hard time covering all of them in the depth they deserve, but we’re feeling ambitious, so let’s give it a shot. But before we launch into the reasons why employers should encourage their employees to take ample time off, we want to be super clear about what we mean by “encourage” — because it’s different than just allowing.
When we talk about encouraging employees to take paid time off (PTO), we’re talking about something decidedly different from just making it available. Making time off available means granting an allocated amount of time that employees are allowed to take off and doing your best to approve requests for that time when employees ask for it. Chances are, you’ve been doing some version of that, and that’s fine. But there’s an immense amount of value being left on the table with that strategy that can be captured when you proactively encourage your employees to take time off — and a generous amount of it.
What does “encouraging time off” look like? Here are some signs your workplace is being proactive and setting yourselves up to reap the benefits:
- Managers initiate conversations with their direct reports about taking time off. Example: “Hey Claire, I noticed you haven’t taken any personal/vacation days in a while. I know things have been busy, but why don’t we take a look at the calendar and see when would make sense to schedule a break for you in the next few months.”
- Teams plan out projects ahead of time and employees schedule PTO to follow grueling sprints or launches. In other words, your team knows when hard work is coming up, and it’s baked into the culture that people should try to take time off to refresh themselves afterward.
- The topics of taking time off and what employees are doing during their absences from work are openly, positively discussed. People taking time off isn’t quietly resented and begrudgingly tolerated — it’s celebrated, praised, and held up as the norm of what a high-performing employee does.
There’s a big difference! Now let’s talk about the reasons why employers should be shifting their approach to instilling PTO encouragement into their work culture.
Minimize risk of burnout
Let’s start with the obvious reason to encourage employees to take time off: employee burnout is a huge problem and a leading reason why employees leave their jobs and it’s entirely preventable. Yes, employers also need to make sure their employees aren’t grinding themselves into the ground with punishingly long hours and impossible workloads, but even under the most favorable working conditions, people still need ample amounts of time where they are simply not working at all. Without this, burnout is an eventuality that is, at best, merely delayed.
Offering employees plenty of PTO makes it possible for them to escape burnout — actively encouraging them to make use of their available PTO is, from an employer standpoint, a valuable investment in keeping that resource (the employee) performing to its full potential. Usually it’s preferable to think of employees as actual human beings rather than resources, but when it comes to strategically approaching time off, it’s not really a bad thing to look at employees to make sure their batteries are charged, fully and regularly.
Allow time to reassess goals and priorities
It’s so easy when you’re heads down on work day after day to lose perspective. In fact, we would argue that losing yourself in your work is often the only way to execute it effectively — it’s called focusing! We love to see it. However! There’s a downside to all that beautiful focus. You can’t execute and strategize simultaneously. You can certainly try, and you might even have brief flashes of time where you’re able to do so successfully, but without a doubt, you will quickly find operating on two levels will burn you out. (We swear we didn’t mean for that to rhyme. Not mad at it, though.)
So what does this mean? If you want employees at any level — VPs to independent contributors — to routinely reconnect to the high-level picture that frames their day-to-day work, you have to let them step away. Time off isn’t just a good chance to chill out and catch up on the stack of novels they’ve been piling up (although…yes, we hope they do all of that) — it’s a chance to pull back and think about the overarching goals and priorities that govern their work lives and make adjustments where needed.
Refresh creative capacity
Whether someone works in a role that’s officially deemed “creative” or not, chances are they regularly utilize creative brain power. Pretty much all of us do, even if we don’t think of it as such. And seriously, creative burnout is incredibly real. For someone who does work in a creative role, being creatively tapped can mean a severely diminished ability to bring fresh ideas and vibrant execution to their work. It might mean simply not being able to produce any more ideas. For people whose job functions don’t include producing creative assets, creative burnout might just look like an inability to effortlessly put sentences together in an email. It’s just a kind of numbness — the words, ideas, and thoughts are gone. The well is empty. And the harder you squeeze at that point, the less juice you’re likely to get.
From time to time, truly the only thing that will help someone regain their creative power is to fully stop asking their brain to produce anything for a while. It’s a muscle that needs to be rested. In this sense, time off should be regarded as essential recovery time that makes productivity possible in a sustainable way.
Get distance — and clarity! — around problems
Taking time off work is the professional equivalent of taking a walk around the block to clear your head. Everyone knows that, most of the time, the best solution to problems is to take a break from wrestling with them up close, get some space and distance, and the answer will just come to you. For employees, whether it’s a known issue or an underlying inefficiency or unidentified problem, taking time off can be exactly the brief disconnect they need to gain invaluable perspective.
This could look like so many different things. Maybe they’ll finally figure out how to massage the relationship with a cross-functional partner whom they historically just cannot vibe with! Maybe they’ll get struck with an “ah-ha!” moment about a growth plateau they haven’t been able to push past! Maybe they’ll suddenly see a problem they hadn’t previously even recognized that answers for a team-wide pain point, and they’ll come back to make everyone’s lives better! Maybe none of this will happen, but they’ll still come back refreshed and clear-headed enough to prevent new problems from forming. Who knows! Let them go and see what good things happen.
Reinforce mutual appreciation between employees and the company
The fact is, most of us want to work. We are hard-wired with a desire to engage in meaningful work. It’s something humans have always done. It gives us a sense of purpose. But when we don’t feel supported, appreciated, and like our work actually has meaning, all the existential fulfillment drops out of our work experience, and we become miserable.
Time off from work gives employees a chance to reset on all the aforementioned fronts, and it gives them a chance to become realigned with a sense of purpose about their work and to regain the resources necessary to do it well and with enthusiasm — but it also gives them a chance to feel supported and taken care of by their employer. And the strength of that relationship has a huge impact on the kind of energy and productivity an employee brings to their work each day.