Vacation is a much needed stress relief, especially considering 45% of employees feel burned out. It's a time to disconnect from the craziness of your daily life – whether you're sitting on a beach somewhere enjoying the fresh air, in a cabin with the company of people who matter most, or just taking a few days to hang out at home without the distraction of work.
But, sometimes checking out of work isn't as easy as it seems and leads to more anxiety. To explore this concept, we surveyed 568 employees and 442 managers to find out how they handle the stress of stepping away, how they prepare for it, and what they need to feel better about completely being away from the office.
Taking time off isn't as easy as it sounds. In fact, nearly half of our respondents felt some level of anxiety when requesting time off. And, it didn't have to do with the amount of available time, because those with unlimited PTO policies felt the most out-of-office anxiety.
Regular employees were more likely than managers to feel anxious about taking time off. In fact, most employees (45%) said their manager takes more time off than they do. However, HR experts say that managers can actually help set an example for employees when it comes to utilizing vacation. The benefits of taking time off will benefit employees and employers in the long run, that is when it isn't impacting performance.
Company size definitely played a role with how employees felt about taking time off. Small and midsized company employees felt more anxiety when taking time off, likely out of concern that their workloads were going to fall on their co-workers.
Baby boomers and millennials were nearly split when it came to how anxious they felt taking off, with around half of each generation experiencing low anxiety. Generation X on the other hand had a good deal of anxiety, with 79% experiencing a moderate or high amount of anxiety when stepping out of the office.
So what do employees do to prepare for their PTO? From taking time in advance to make sure all aspects of the job are in order to doing some straightening up, there's lots of ways people can get themselves and everyone they work with prepped for their time out of the office. Well, first it comes with giving at least 36 hours notice.
For immediate visibility, nearly 60% of the employees we surveyed make their PTO available on their calendar. This creates visibility for everyone they're working with. Next, 56% of employees set email reminders, and 53% delegated tasks to their co-workers.
But, even leaving a clear to-do list for co-workers doesn't eliminate anxiety. One in 4 people who did this still experienced unease when leaving the office.
If you're not truly stepping away, is it really a vacation? People who got work done during their time off still reported high levels of anxiety (39%), and 37% of people who checked in with work experienced high anxiety while out of office. When it comes to the least anxiety, it's among those who planned for their return to work. Perhaps having a plan for their return allows people to be more at ease about work.
Considering 59% of companies aren't requiring PTO plans, the uncertainty of their tasks could be fueling employees' anxiety about taking time off.
We found that 48% of people were anxious to take PTO because they didn't want to come back to more work than they were trying to get away from. On the more selfless side of things, just over 40% of employees felt guilty or that they were creating more work for their teams.
So what do employees' PTO policies look like? Well, 57% have generous PTO, and another 55% have holiday shutdowns. About 1 in 3 employees wished they had unlimited PTO or sick time. A recent study showed that 24% of employers were planning on increasing their PTO carryover limits, which 24% of the people we surveyed desired. So, perhaps, employers are working on making this less of a burden for their teams.
Sometimes being strategic could make taking time away from work easier on everyone. If you know when you'll have a high workload period, you might want to avoid taking PTO. Sixty percent of managers said that employees could improve by avoiding time off during heavier production times.
The next two ways employees can improve? Avoiding PTO when co-workers are out of office, as well as avoiding last-minute requests. As a manager, if these sorts of requests come in, you have to be prepared to deny your employee's request which might be difficult. HR experts suggest using clear language and reasoning behind the decisions when this has to happen.
For the most part, employees and managers had the same expectations – with the exception of not giving proper notices. Among regular employees, 44% said people should avoid PTO without proper notice, whereas only 34% of managers had this expectation for regular employees.
Ultimately, vacation is a healthy thing, and employees and managers should utilize it. Although levels of out-of-office anxiety vary by work situation, company size, and generation, there seems to be a right and a wrong way to do it. Through clear communication, planning, and understanding expectations, employees can comfortably get out of the office and away from their computers for a reasonable amount of time. Activities like making a plan to return to work can lower out-of-office anxiety. Doing work or checking in with work, however, can increase this feeling. Expectations among individual employees and managers may differ, but clear PTO policies within a company can help to mitigate some of these common issues.
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We surveyed 1,010 people who work full- or part-time and receive PTO as a benefit from their employer. 568 respondents were regular employees, and 442 respondents were managers. 56% of respondents identified as men, and 43% of respondents identified as women. 1% of respondents identified as nonbinary or noncomforming.
To help ensure that all respondents took our survey seriously, they were required to identify and correctly answer an attention-check question.
These data rely on self-reporting by the respondents and are only exploratory. Issues with self-reported responses include, but aren't limited to, the following: exaggeration, selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and bias. All values are based on estimation.
Think your manager could benefit from this study? Or maybe a co-worker or a friend would find it intriguing? Well, pass it along, just make sure you're only sharing for noncommercial purposes and to link back to this full study.