Encourage PTO Use for May: Mental Health Awareness Month

by May 5, 2021

It’s been over a year since the entire world shut down, and finally there’s a light at the end of the tunnel – but we aren’t out of the woods just yet.

Employees are burnt out at exponential levels, whether they’ve been on the front lines (shoutout to essential workers!) or trying to manage the struggles of working from home.
With long hours and no place to go, employees have been accumulating time off and not taking it. Now, your employees may be reaching their PTO caps and not taking time off to relax and refresh.
This is a problem we’re seeing with our clients, so we put our heads together with our favorite HR consulting firm, Total Package Professional Services, to brainstorm some solutions for addressing high PTO balances and mental health. Much thanks to them for their awesome ideas!
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so now is a perfect time to take advantage of our six ideas for encouraging PTO use. (And check out this guide from the National Alliance on Mental Illness for ideas on breaking the stigma around mental health.)
  1. Suspend caps entirely or increase the caps temporarily. Consider suspending or increasing the cap for 3-6 months, then re-evaluate according to the regulations in your area. This way employees don’t feel they are losing out due to circumstances outside of their control. Keep in mind though that once PTO is earned, it has to be paid.

  2. Develop a mandatory PTO policy. You could require employees to take a certain amount of time off. This will help with planning and issues of flooded time off requests when things open up. If everyone is required to take PTO, managers can plan ahead to address the work.

  3. Provide some additional paid days off to boost employee morale. You could provide paid Friday’s off or close the office mid-day once in awhile. You could also provide these benefits on a rotating basis by team or department. By doing so you can remove the guilt from taking time off, encourage employees to take a break and ultimately boost morale. Employees want to know you care about their mental health.

  4. Ask leadership to set an example. Employees will feel more comfortable taking time off if they see their leaders doing so. No one’s taking PTO if the CEO or a direct manager is working 15 hour days.

  5. Develop messaging around the importance of taking PTO. Ultimately it’s there to reduce the risk of burnout, support physical and mental health, and increase productivity. Sometimes just a reminder can trigger employees to take vacation.

  6. Create a guide of what to do with PTO time. Help employees reframe what time off could look like. They might be thinking of palm trees or adventure parks, but you can remind them that PTO and vacations can include long weekends, taking a day in the middle of the busy work week, marinating in their backyard with a good book, going on a bike ride, and more. 
There’s no right answer and every organization has unique needs, but your employees have been working hard and probably not taking time to care for themselves. Show them you appreciate their hard work by showing them you care about their whole self.

About Catherine Mattice

Catherine Mattice, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is President of consulting and training firm, Civility Partners, and has been successfully providing programs in workplace bullying and building positive workplaces since 2007. Her clients include Fortune 500’s, the military, several universities and hospitals, government agencies, small businesses and nonprofits. She has published in a variety of trade magazines and has appeared several times on NPR, FOX, NBC, and ABC as an expert, as well as in USA Today, Inc Magazine, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, and more. Catherine is Past-President of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), San Diego Chapter and teaches at National University. In his book foreword, Ken Blanchard called her book, BACK OFF! Your Kick-Ass Guide to Ending Bullying at Work, “the most comprehensive and valuable handbook on the topic.” She recently released a second book entitled, SEEKING CIVILITY: How Leaders, Managers and HR Can Create a Workplace Free of Bullying.

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