Sure, the summer may be over, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re done with beautiful weather. Whether or not September and October bring beautiful days of Indian summer and you enjoy a day off here or there, chances are your personal time bank may not necessarily be empty.
According to Fortune, employees in the U.S. squander approximately 429 million paid vacation days every year. That’s worth repeating: 429 million days of unused paid time!
Data from a new Monster poll shows 22 percent — that’s nearly one out of four — U.S. employees don’t exactly have the easiest time getting to enjoy the actual paid time off, better known as PTO. Chalk it up to a difficult approval process, boss and/or challenging culture, the point remains: Some workplace environments may not necessarily be supportive of well-deserved and well-earned time away from the office as in unplugged, logged off and enjoying life. Here’s what you can do about it.
Start small: Ask for one day off. If your boss isn’t the most receptive when you ask for a week off, break it down. Tack on a day here or there so you have long weekends to check out the foliage, get a head start on holiday or shopping or to simply enjoy a staycation in your backyard.
And when you’re offline, stay offline. Ask yourself if the entire company will collapse just because you’re out of sight, out of mind for eight hours. Have a back-up contact in place for your OOO and provide colleagues with your cell phone number if they don’t already have it so you’re reachable in case of a true emergency. Sometimes even a mental health day where you do nothing more than clean out the garage is just what the doctor ordered. Hopefully when you return to work your boss will realize it’s definitely not a bad thing you were absent. In turn, you will hopefully get more green lights to take PTO.
Be cognizant of when you’re asking for time off. If you’ve consistently asked for time off during your department’s busiest time of the year, as 2015 heads into the home stretch, be aware of asking for time pegged to your most hectic time of year. There may be a reason why, valid or not, your boss has not been on board.
That said, sometimes the time for PTO isn’t exactly in your control, especially when there’s a family commitment like an out of town wedding. You can say something to reference that you realize it isn’t the best scenario and that you also have time left which will likely go unspent. Illustrate how you’ll prepare your colleagues ahead of time.
Be aware of how you’re asking. Communication styles matter. If your boss hasn’t been on board, maybe email isn’t the best way to get a quick, curt response. Have a conversation instead and mention you’re entitled to time off and it won’t significantly impact your department.
Sometimes one of the biggest barriers we have to overcome is ourselves. Once you convince yourself wholeheartedly that you deserve this time off and leadership created this policy for a reason, respect and honor it, then figure out how to approach it based on your boss’s preferred communication styles. Plus, realize you’re setting a positive example for others in the group about the importance of taking care of yourself. In turn, that will hopefully make a positive impact on your office even though it may not be culturally accepted to do so.
Accept time off as a job requirement. When I worked in recruiting, while extending job offers, salary and title were the first points to communicate, the personal day policies followed soon thereafter. It’s no different, really than viewing it as your employer’s potential 401(k) match or health insurance — items available with implicit assumptions to be utilized to the fullest extent. These items are an all or nothing approach — why shouldn’t PTO be viewed the same way?
While some employees may bank their days since they don’t know what lies ahead, keep in mind many companies have policies in place so you can leave your personal time intact. For instance, if there’s an unfortunate death in the family, that may be tacked onto a bereavement policy of a day or two or more. And if you’re in the hospital with a loved one, perhaps there’s leniency to work remotely instead of tapping into your PTO.
Remind yourself, and your boss, of the value added when taking a break and returning to the office refreshed. If you’ve ever been burned out, you know the feeling. And in this day and age with technology, it’s harder and harder to unplug but here’s why you should: The Harvard Business Review commented on an EY study revealing that for each 10 hours of vacation employees actually took, employees’ performance ratings landed better feedback on their performance reviews the following year.
Feel free to remind both yourself and your boss that people who take time off return to the office refreshed, creative, productive and, according to the data, with an 8 percent higher performance rating!
Find a better job. Many times a boss and/or corporate culture that are unsupportive of taking a break and returning to work refreshed may be reflective of bigger, underlying issues. If you discover there isn’t a work-life balance and instead, it’s all work work work, it may be time to pause and wonder about a recurring theme as to why you’re constantly getting push back on time off that you’re entitled to. Constant push back is a sign your boss isn’t ever going to be on board. This may provide inspiration to seek a better job externally with an employer placing an emphasis on its people and their time off.
In addition, if the approval process is complex and you need several rounds of approvals and find you’re having to justify what you’re doing while you’re out of the office, like if it’s a cruise it’s worthy but if it’s a matter of spending time spring cleaning, it’s not, then it’s definitely time to pause and seek a better culture that values its employees and most importantly, their well being. All paid time off is created equally whether or not you’re doing something fun or doing chores at home. You’re still entitled to take it.