Have you taken a vacation yet this year? How about your team?
If you or your colleagues haven't spent as much time out-of-office (OOO) as you'd like this year, you're not alone. Nearly half (42%) of US workers have not taken time off in the past 12 months, a 2022 Eagle Hill Consulting survey revealed. Younger and lower-income workers were the least likely to have taken a vacation, at 50% and 56%, respectively.
After over two years of COVID-19, staff shortages, and layoffs, employee burnout levels are still incredibly high. And we all know how important it is to unplug and how much more we can bring to our work when we rest and recharge. So why are people afraid to take time off?
The reality is employees likely want to take a vacation, but they feel like they can't. For example, a heavy workload, pressure to stay on top of their work, and a lack of colleagues available to cover their workload were some of the top reasons workers cited in the Eagle Hill survey for not taking a vacation.
Fortunately, if you know why people aren't taking time off, you can start breaking down those barriers to access. With some more intentional PTO planning, you can better support your employees from a practical and psychological level and encourage and enable them to take the breaks they deserve.
How to create an OOO plan to reduce anxiety about going back to work after vacation.
If you've ever taken time off and returned to so much work that you wish you never left, then you understand why some people may not be super keen to take their PTO. While it would be great to be able to simply close our laptops and check out for a week or two, that's not all that realistic. So what's the best way to take time off work and—perhaps more importantly—make space to take time off work?
Creating an OOO plan will help ease those post-vacation worries and ensure that work gets covered so you won't fall behind. A good OOO plan should also set expectations for the rest of your team, so they know what they'll be working on, and nobody feels like they're out of the loop.
Our 4 step PTO planning guide so you can unplug with confidence.
1. Get approval for your time off.
A best practice is to ask as far in advance as possible, keeping in mind the length of your time off, and requesting with enough advance notice to plan ahead (of course, there will be circumstances where that’s not possible, like a personal or family emergency).
When to have this ready: At Blueboard, we build in a week's notice for every day planned to take off. If you plan to take two days off, give two weeks advance notice, and so on.
2. Inform relevant people (e.g., team members, clients, vendors) about your upcoming time off.
Depending on your role and work, there may be projects in motion that need a teammate to get them to the next stage or to be completed. Even if you think no action is needed from anyone else while you’re away, this step allows teammates to communicate any plans, meetings, or shared deliverables that might not be on your radar yet and plan accordingly. Add a note in any team meeting agendas or weekly status updates and tag your manager, and any colleagues whose work is contingent on yours.
When to have this ready: Share planned time off (even if it’s not for sure yet) in any team or cross functional syncs as soon as you request it. That way, the folks you work directly or indirectly with have a heads-up and can proactively check in on any projects, reviews, or shared deliverables to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.
3. Create your OOO plan.
This document should include your OOO dates, reachability while away, outline work coverage needs, any relevant project status updates, and key objectives.
Get started by asking yourself the following questions:
- What tasks and projects can I complete before I leave?
- What tasks and projects can wait until I'm back?
- What tasks and projects have to be completed while I'm out?
- Who can I ask for help?
You can use this OOO plan template from GetGuru as a guide.
When to have this ready: Check in with your team and manager, but a solid best practice is to give enough time for people to review and leave any comments or questions––and for you to respond with any answers, if applicable. In most cases, sharing out your OOO plan within 48-72 hours before you’re set to be OOO is plenty of time.
4. Meet with your manager and team to discuss your OOO plan and get their input before you leave.
This step will ensure that everybody is informed of and comfortable with the plan so you can fully disconnect while away. This is also a great way to have a check and balance between what you think needs to be done and any areas you might have missed.
When to do this: After socializing your OOO plan so relevant team members can review, schedule a quick sync to confirm the plan looks good (or, chat about it asynchronously in the document itself, your project management tool, or via Slack).
5. Update your primary communication channels (e.g., email, Slack, etc.) to reflect your OOO status.
For example, you might want to set up a work email autoresponder or change your Slack status to 'on vacation' and set the dates for while you're out so internal and external stakeholders know when and for how long you're away.
When to have this ready: Last day before you leave.
Create a folder for your OOO plans in a shared drive so you can easily refer to them and copy and paste the basics to fill in for future occasions. With some dedicated PTO planning supported by repeatable frameworks like the example OOO plan above, taking time off doesn’t have to add stress (or a lot more work!) to your workload.
Why PTO planning and taking time off matters.
Making the investment to plan ahead and map out a coverage plan is important to truly disconnect from work when out of office. And taking a real break from work (yep, go ahead and delete your work email and Slack from your phone on vacation) is essential to the health of both our personal and professional lives.
Understandably, taking time off can be easier said than done. Between the ongoing pandemic and a looming recession, it's not hard to fathom why people may be less inclined to take time off. For example, on top of their fears about falling behind on work, your employees may be worried about getting sick while traveling or whether it's a wise financial decision.
Plus, the term ’quiet quitting’ is making headlines and sparked debate around appropriate workplace expectations and boundaries (our take: ‘quiet quitting’ has been mislabeled as doing less when it’s actually about having healthy work-life balance, not overworking, and rethinking taking on extra or invisible work). As a result, employees may be concerned that leadership will view them as less invested in their work if they take time off.
As Emily Medlen, RevOps Manager at Blueboard, shared in a recent LinkedIn post: "For most of my career, it felt taboo to ask off work early or take a day off. It felt taboo to leave work at a regular time every day. I was accused of not showing commitment. If I left before the leaders, it meant I didn't have grit."
Even though more employers are offering perks and benefits that promote work-life balance (e.g., four-day workweeks, mandatory PTO policies), the ‘quiet quitting’ conversation shows that it’s not unreasonable for employees to worry that they will be seen as less invested in their work if they take time off.
But the research is clear. Taking time off comes with a host of benefits for both employees and the organization. For example, Netflix doesn’t have prescribed time-off policies and instead encourages employees to simply, “take vacation” when they need a break. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings regularly takes six weeks off every year, both for his own wellbeing and to set a positive example for his staff. As Hastings once told CNBC: “You often do your best thinking when you're off hiking in some mountain or something. You get a different perspective on things."