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Vacation Policies: Set A Precedent That's Aligned With Your Culture

A Company Culture In Support of Rest

Picture this: you finally take some vacation days and arrive at your first getaway in ages. You confirm tomorrow’s plans, order in a lovely meal, and run a hot bubble bath. You slink in, a fizzy drink in one hand and a book you’ve been dying to read in the other. Two minutes into your intended escape from reality, a text notification pops up:

“Hey. I know you’re on your trip but we’re stuck on something here - got 10 minutes?”

One quick towel-off and 30 minutes of back-and-forth with your teammates later, the bathwater’s lukewarm, the bubbles in the tub and in your drink have gone flat, and instead of enjoying your downtime, you rage-draft (and promptly delete) a LinkedIn post about the importance of work-life boundaries, before grumbling off to bed.

So much for your first night of vacation, huh?

Align Your Culture and PTO Policy

Remember a few weeks ago when we discussed how culture and perks aren’t one and the same? Nowhere does this ring more blatantly true than in your company’s policy and cultural approach to paid time off.

When it comes to teammates using their vacation time, the PTO policy is only as strong as the cultural expectations and examples that surround it.

Unlimited PTO Perk vs Cultural Expectations Around It

What do I mean by this? Let’s take the example of the almighty Unlimited PTO benefit. On its face, it’s incredible (who doesn’t want unlimited time off?!). But no amount of unlimited time off is going to feel restful, restorative, and re-energizing if it’s treated like the Sad Bathtime scenario I painted above. I for one would rather take 10-15 fully disconnected days off a year than twice as many where I can’t unwind without interruption.

No matter your workplace’s vacation policy, look to gauge the impact your culture has on employee adoption.

Clarity of leadership’s example

Teams look to leadership’s example for appropriate communication, performance expectations, collaboration, and more. So imagine the potential for confusion when a leader espouses the benefits of time off, only to spend their own vacation time replying to emails and Slack conversations. Expect that your teammates will trust what’s communicated less and less if their leader’s behavior telegraphs a different expectation.

​​How to fix it? Get aligned!

Remind your team leadership that their stewardship of culture and benefits holds power, and that acting in defiance of stated expectations around things like vacation time will erode trust in the intended design of the benefit. Trust me, they could probably use the reminder to disconnect, too!

Capacity constraints

I get it - there’s too much to do and not enough hours in the day to get it done. But strained capacity has a sneaky byproduct beyond on-job stress; it dampens vacation adoption. Think about it - if you know you’ll return to a pile of work even more insurmountable than the one you face every day, does the prospect of a vacation feel enjoyable, or just more stressful?

How to fix it? Ask!

Survey your team to learn more about how much teammates take vacation, what the sentiment around time off is, and why teams are or aren’t taking time away. Look into feedback team by team and see where you can act. When in doubt, start with documentation. As Podge Thomas shared in a recent episode of the Want To Work There podcast, "Nothing empowers people to truly step away like being able to easily hand over responsibilities while you’re out."

Repeatedly Give Permission to Take Breaks

Repeated, unsolicited, authentically-granted permission is one of the best tools at your disposal for communicating and influencing cultural norms. Proactively reiterating stated policy information doesn’t just clarify information to your teams, it signals to them that the topic is important enough to remain consistently top of mind, and worth addressing before anyone has to ask.

How to fix it? Tell ‘em!

Scan recent all-company communications; do any of them mention, celebrate, or promote your company’s vacation policy? If they don’t, make a commitment to send out time-off nudges at least once per quarter.

Looking for a starting script? Borrow mine:

“I can’t believe it’s already June. With the halfway mark for this year approaching, I want to remind everyone here of our vacation policy, which states that employees are entitled to [XYZ details of your company policy]. None of us can do or feel our best at work if we don’t disconnect once in a while, so consider this a nudge to look to the second half of the year and schedule some time to rest, recharge, and re-energize.”

And hey, while I’ve got you here, remember that this applies to you, too! If you’ve got some vacation time - accrued, unlimited, whatever - burning a hole in your pocket, I challenge you to set that positive example and schedule a couple days before the end of next week. Your own fizzy drink awaits!

A burnt out manager drinks a glass of sparkling rose in a bathtub as she considers removing Slack from her phone.

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