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Why (and how) to encourage your team to take time off

Insufficient time off makes employees tired, wired and less engaged.In fact, in 2018, 47% of Americans left vacation days (an important piece of their remuneration packages) on the table. Why?

There are many reasons why your team may be avoiding taking their paid time off, especially now. Here are a few examples of some excuses your team may be making to put off taking their leave, as well as some ideas on how to address them.

Why your team doesn’t take their leave (and what to say)

Excuse: Why take time off during a pandemic? I’d rather wait until things return to normal to take a nice trip than sightsee and pose for pictures in masks or stay at home and do nothing.

Encouragement: The pandemic is an ongoing, changing situation and we can’t know with any certainty when we’ll be able to travel like before. But everyone needs a break sometimes, and you have plenty of leave. Wouldn’t you like to make the most of it? Besides, we all need regular breaks from work for our mental wellbeing, especially right now.

Excuse: I have too much to do. Taking time off feels impossible because of the amount of work that needs to be done before (and after I return). I can’t face cramming in all that extra work just to have a few days off.

Encouragement: I understand that you’ve got a lot on your plate. But have you thought about breaking what you need to do to be able to leave your position covered into small tasks you can do over the course of a few weeks before departure, and possibly delegating some things that you don’t need to personally manage to another team member?

It may also be helpful to set expectations for your return before you go. Can you give yourself a free day (or morning) to ramp up before diving into meetings and answering messages? Having some time to get organized on your return can make a real difference.

Excuse: I can’t unplug. I just don't know how anymore. I know I’ll check my email and messages every day, so why even bother taking time off, if I know I won’t be able to switch off and truly relax.

Encouragement: Unplugging is hard for most of us. If you’re really feeling worried about unplugging, what if we set up a workflow for contacting you in case of an emergency, and a designated non-urgent check-in time a few times a week so that you can feel calmer while you’re away?

For more tips and suggestions on disconnecting from your devices, read our blog post on digital detox.

Whatever the excuse is, time-off is more necessary than ever before. Working through a global pandemic has many of us stressed and unable to disconnect. But team leads can play a key role in encouraging employees to take a much-needed break. Read on for a few more things you can do.

A woman checks in at the airport wearing a mask. Are vacations during the pandemic good for mental

@enginakyurt via Unsplash

Steps to take to encourage your team to take their leave

1. Lead by example.

When you tell everyone to take their days, but don’t take your own, you’re sending a pretty mixed message to your staff and missing out on reaping all of the benefits a vacation can provide for your own wellbeing.

So go ahead, book some time away from the office into the calendar. And talk openly about looking forward to your break, too.

2. Make it easy for people to take time off.

This may mean setting up a shared calendar where people can request time off and approving it in short order, helping employees set up workflows for while they’re away. Perhaps most importantly, it means making sure your team knows you expect everyone to take time off because doing so is important to the wellbeing of each individual and the team as a whole.

If there are rules as far as how far in advance people need to schedule their vacations, make sure they’re clearly communicated and easy to understand.

Time off is easier to take (and to manage for the entire team) if everyone knows how it’s done.

3. Keep disturbances to a minimum.

If it’s at all possible, don’t interrupt your team members when they’re out of office unless it’s truly urgent and something only they can address. If something can wait until they’re back, note what’s needed, and deal with it on their return.

Or if someone else can handle it properly, delegating the task in the moment is a great way to keep things from piling up to greet the person away on their first day back. One way to make sure that employees are interrupted as little as possible is to have a policy in place.

Whether that means scheduling weekly check-ins or having a way to contact the person in case of emergency (along with a definition of what the team considers an emergency), having something written out that everyone has access to can really help with this.

However your team handles time off, it’s been scientifically demonstrated to be a vital piece of the wellbeing puzzle. Not only does taking a few days (or weeks) away give your team the mental space they need to recover from their day-to-day, studies show these breaks make a big difference when it comes to engagement, too.

Do you or your team have trouble taking time off? Why or why not? Share with us at foundations@koahealth.com​.