Combat COVID-19 Burnout With These 3 PTO Strategies. PTO benefits can be an important weapon in fighting widespread pandemic burnout. Try these three strategies to encourage PTO use.

The quickest short-term solution to employee burnout is rest. Yet, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, American workers have a history of not taking full advantage of their PTO. In 2018, there were 768 million unused vacation days according to the US Travel Association – that’s an average of 6.5 days for every full time worker.

Even though burnout has increased dramatically during the pandemic, PTO use has actually  decreased overall, according to data from Deloitte. Paid days off are a vital part of healthy work life and can help keep teams feeling focused, connected and motivated to work. So why aren’t employees taking them? The problem is part culture and part policy. 

Let’s break down three strategies to combat COVID-19 burnout by encouraging PTO.

1. Make PTO a mandatory part of office life.

One of the things that makes wasted PTO so prevalent is that workplace culture often rewards employees who sacrifice their own rest. This mentality, also labeled “workplace martyrdom,” encourages the mindset that the whole office takes a hit with one team member missing. Employees then feel a sense of guilt, denying their own need for a break, which in turn causes burnout. By making PTO mandatory for your team, you remove the idea that rest equates laziness or selfishness on the part of your employees. Instead, build a culture where breaks are a necessary and encouraged part of an employee’s job.

2. Separate vacation and sick days to discourage employees from working through illness in favor of vacation time.

According to XpertHR’s Paid Leave Survey 2021, 41% of paid leave plans are PTO bank plans. In these plans, most or all paid leave is bundled together for non-distinguishable use. This forces employees to pit their health against their vacation. This doesn’t make much sense and sometimes leads employees to come in sick in order to save vacation days. Not only is this obviously a health risk, but it also encourages all sorts of mental gymnastics that detract from an employee’s wellbeing.

3. Rollover unused PTO days and encourage employees to use them quarterly.

Not all employees operate on the same schedule. Allow employees the flexibility to plan their time off in a way that works for them. Instead of having their vacation days wiped at the end of the year, they can utilize them in individual ways. Although this doesn’t solve every part of the problem, it adds value to off days and gives employees more agency.

Time off can look a variety of ways. Whether it’s a minimum per year, a company-wide “holiday,” or incentivized PTO, it’s critical that employees feel that their boss actively wants them to take time off. If being a workplace martyr is motivated by a desire to demonstrate dedication to the company, the key is switching the framework to signal to employees that sometimes dedication to the company can look like making sure you bring the best version of yourself to work every day. That isn’t possible without rest and self-consideration.

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