Here’s Why You Should Shed the Guilt about Using PTO while Working Remotely

People are craving connection these days, even if it comes through a phone or computer screen. Zoom, Teams, FaceTime and other video calls have undoubtedly become the norm since March and for good reason. I’ve even found that what used to be a simple phone or conference calls have turned into video conferences. 

We’re starved for human interaction, and while these new virtual platforms have had positive effects, it’s also had some less-than-ideal repercussions.

Most would have taken paid time off (PTO) for a spring and/or summer vacation by now with the glimmer of the holiday season providing some downtime as well. After all, time off to detach from work and connect with loved ones is crucial to sustaining performance and productivity, and most importantly, preventing burnout. 

With people cooped up at home, though, PTO is going largely unused and some employees are secretly burning themselves out.

The Toll of Our New Virtual Reality

I recently attended a virtual gala where, similar to the Emmys, people dressed to the nines while sitting in the comfort of their own homes. This gala was a big event — some, like me, had their IT professionals on deck to manage anything that could (and did) go wrong! Luckily, attendees met faulty audio, video, and awkward handoffs or delays with compassion and understanding rather than annoyance and frustration. In today’s virtual environment, we’ve all been there and most are forgiving of technological challenges associated with our virtual reality. 

If held in-person, by the end of an event like this, I would have been exhausted. Surprisingly, being at home was no different. Sure, I didn’t feel the pressures of traveling to the event and other nuances of being there “live,” but being fully immersed and actively participating from my monitor still requires a significant degree of engagement and energy, just like remote work does for those of us who no longer have a commute into the office. 

Why Taking PTO is Important

In most organizations, employees are encouraged to take time off to disconnect from work and unwind with family and friends enjoying those activities that allow us to refuel.

The way people usually detach from work and reconnect with the world outside may be inhibited given our global pandemic. For example, you can’t grab a drink with coworkers at a local pub or blow off steam in a workout class. If people haven’t been able to find new ways to destress during social distancing, their burnout levels might be higher than typical. Perhaps this year, use your PTO to do something solo – even if it’s just sleeping in! Or, complete a home renovation project you’ve been trying to make time for. It’s all about connection — with yourself, your loved ones, your needs, nature, your community, you name it!

Encouraging PTO as Managers 

People aren’t taking PTO, but not just because they have limited choices of where to go. Fear of job security has some working through burnout. As managers, we have to be open with our employees and encourage them to take time off. 

And managers can lead by example. Let employees know when you’re taking a couple of days off to show them that it’s okay. Share stories and ideas about what to do with your much-needed break to open the conversation.

A Positive of Virtual Work – A Showcase of Humanness Within the Professional World

As we’re still navigating the new reality of a virtual workplace, I’d like to share a couple of positive effects I’ve noticed. First, it’s brought a new level of kindness out in people. Six months ago, if someone brought a crying baby or a barking dog into a virtual boardroom meeting, or a large virtual event had technological malfunctions, I can assure you, it wouldn’t have been met with the degree of grace and understanding as I’ve seen demonstrated over the past couple of months. 

Second — I’ve spoken at a number of virtual conferences over the past couple of months and the caliber of talent that organizations can secure for their event when travel isn’t involved is incredible! From corporate CEOs to celebrities, everyone is less busy nowadays and seems to be willing to speak when you remove the rigor/time of travel. 

People understand that bringing the office into your home comes with unexpected challenges, no matter how well you plan. Once people are able to return to the office, it is hoped with a new normal to see some rigid and sometimes unforgiving practices fade away and be replaced with compassion for each other.