HR Leads Business

Jun 2, 2021 | Clarissa Peterson, GPHR, SPHR, LPEC, President and CEO at Ohana HR LLC

Working on Vacation: Setting Personal Boundaries After a Traumatic Year

The boundaries between our personal and work lives have become blurred. Up to 30% of employees work on weekends and holidays, and two-thirds of Americans report working on vacation. That can have negative consequences on health and performance. 

One year, I thought I’d been a fantastic leader to my team. So I gave myself the highest rating on leadership during my self-assessment. But my supervisor disagreed. Since I’d spent time working on vacation (and had forfeited five vacation days), my supervisor told me she couldn’t give me the highest leadership score: I hadn’t set a good example for my team. 

I was mad. But when I stepped back, I realized she gave me a gift that completely changed my career and my mindset about vacation. Vacations are a time for employees to reset and emotionally disconnect from work — especially after the shared trauma of a global pandemic.

Now that we’re coming out of the pandemic and restrictions are being lifted, here’s how to help your workforce disconnect and avoid working on vacation.

Publish a Post-Pandemic Vacation Policy

We’ve all shared the trauma of living through a global pandemic. It’s been more traumatic for some than others, but everyone has felt its draining effects. Communicate to your workforce the importance of taking time off to mentally recover from the chaos of the past year.

It’s up to HR to take the lead and explain, in detail, what paid time off looks like. Develop a written policy for expectations around post-pandemic vacation. For example, explicitly state that you expect employees to disconnect completely while on PTO. Let them know you expect them to be absent from meetings and their inbox during designated time off so they can unplug and come back refreshed.

Train Managers to Facilitate Time Off

While HR should promote healthy PTO habits, handling the logistics should fall to direct managers. HR can train managers to balance schedules and allocate duties to help employees leave work behind during vacation. “If we look at the root causes as to why employees feel the need to work during PTO, it comes down to a handful of things,” says Amanda Neely, PHR, Director of Sales and Business Development at LeaveLogic. These usually involve the anxiety of returning to a heavy workload, a lack of trust in others to complete the work or the sense that they need to be available, she says.

Train managers to facilitate time off among team members. They understand the cadence of the work and who can cover for each other. Managers can even use this as a development opportunity, setting stretch goals for team members who are working while a colleague is out. Managers have to communicate to employees that their work will be handled so they don’t stress over it or begin logging in and working on vacation.

Promote a Culture of Mental Wellness

Taking a break from work after a traumatic year is essential for mental recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. “Now we have more information on burnout and employee mental health, and how those impact physical health,” Neely says. “Organizations are going to have to start evaluating vacation not only as a benefit, but as a therapy or recovery mechanism for treating this invisible strain.”

Emphasize the benefits of disconnecting from work on employees’ mental health, and that you want them to disconnect and focus on themselves. Make sure leaders and managers are taking time off, too, and not working on vacation. They need to set the example and the tone for workplace attitudes toward vacation and mental health. 

Join HRCI on June 17 at 1:00 PM EST for Higher Standard: How Organizations Return, Re-Engage, Re-Train and Retain Their Workforce Micro-Summit, a FREE three-hour event with a distinguished panel of HR experts. Register today.