Here’s How to Actually Plan (and Use!) All Your Time Off This Year

published Feb 23, 2022
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Corporate America is undergoing a cultural reset. The pandemic resulted in the Great Resignation, a greater focus on employee wellness, and workers feeling empowered to ask for more money and flexibility. Despite this progress, many professionals continue to struggle with rest and setting healthy boundaries with their employers.

“Here in the U.S., we don’t have a strong culture of taking time off like other parts of the world, where work-life balance is a priority — and in some places, like Portugal, an actual right,” says career coach Erin Wiegert of Talking Shop with Erin. “As a result, many companies in the U.S. don’t have the infrastructure or internal norms to support employees taking time off. It’s up to the individual to make sure that business can continue as usual, rather than there being an expectation that work will pause while the person is out.”

Here are three ways to ensure you take time off this year, get more acquainted with rest, and feel less guilt about taking a much-deserved break.

Examine the fine print. 

As a former HR manager, I saw employees get burned by poor policies or a misunderstanding of how time off worked at a company. While each company is going to be different, here are some common oversights to be mindful of: 

  • Does your unused paid time off roll over into the next calendar year? If so, is there a limit on how much PTO is rolled over? 
  • Will you be paid for your unused PTO if you leave the company? (This will vary from state to state. Be aware of what is governed by your local legislature.) 
  • Does your company have a “mandatory PTO” or a “minimum PTO use” policy? If so, you could find yourself jilted when all the days you were banking for a specific trip are spent on a last-minute staycation enforced by HR. 

Develop a “PTO plan” for your team and yourself. 

“Employees end up afraid to take time off because of everything they’ll miss while they’re out, especially if they’re the only one who performs a specific job function,” says Wiegert. “In those cases, it’s common to think, I’d never be able to catch up if I took a whole week off. Instead, ask yourself what needs to happen — both professionally and personally — for you to take time off regularly. Remind yourself that completely detaching (yes, from email, too!) is not just a ‘nice to have.’ It’s essential for your mental health — studies show that it actually boosts your creativity and makes you a more productive employee.”

Don’t fall for gimmicks like unlimited PTO.

Unlimited PTO is a hot topic in the world of employee wellness. While some acknowledge its life-saving benefits, you don’t have to search far for those who object to it. As Tyler Calder shared in a recent Girls Night In newsletter, “The funny thing about unlimited PTO is that, unless someone teaches you how to use it properly, it can make you feel like you owe your employer something.” 

If you currently work at a company with a flexible PTO plan, consider taking regular time off. This could be a one-week staycation every quarter or sprinkling in three-day weekends several times throughout the year. Tip: Don’t wait until you have planned vacation. Build “recovery days” into your PTO budget. (You deserve to rest — even on weekdays.)