If you’re like most people, you have a hard time taking a vacation, even when there isn’t a pandemic. It feels like work continually places demands on you that only you can (or should) be responsible for. Getting away, even for a week at a time, is a rare occurrence, and most years you don’t take more than a couple days off at a time.
For others, 2021 doesn’t seem like the right year for a vacation. While we may be starting to come out of the COVID pandemic, there’s still a lot of uncertainty about resuming a post-pandemic lifestyle. Besides, many vacation destinations aren’t fully up and running yet.
Nevertheless, we all need paid time off from work. And the unprecedented demands of the past year have made it imperative to take vacations, even if vacationing looks different from most years.
How Important Is a Vacation Really?
Whether you’re worried about leaving work for a week, or tentative about COVID, you need to take a vacation on a regular basis. Studies show that your performance suffers when you work for too long without a break. But the benefits of using PTO are hard to argue with:
- Improved performance and productivity
- Less stress
- Better mental and emotional health
- Greater creativity
- Better problem-solving
The pandemic actually makes taking paid time off even more important than normal. Remote workers tend to devote more hours to work, since the boundary between personal and professional life is blurred. Home life doesn’t provide the psychological distance from work that it once did, and the pressure cooker effect of pandemic shutdowns increases stress even when we aren’t working.
So vacations are more needed than ever. The catch-22 is that the pandemic also makes getting away more of a challenge — and a staycation has less benefit, when you’re taking time off in the same place you work.
So how do you take paid time off in 2021?
How to Take Time Off When You’re Indispensable
As hard as it may be to believe, no one is truly indispensable. If you take steps ahead of time, you can create the conditions that will allow you to enjoy a vacation, without dropping the ball at work.
Here’s a few steps to take.
Trust your team
Unless you have a toxic work environment, you can count on the people on your team to take up the slack and fill in for you while you’re away. If they share the load, they can bear the burden for a few days.
Besides, you happily do the same for them, right?
Accept that things will get done differently
Sometimes it’s not that you can’t trust your team — it’s that you know they won’t do things the same way you do them. When you come back to work, you’ll have to undo, reorganize, or track down the items they took care of for you while you were out.
Your team may not do certain tasks the way you like them to be done, and it may create some extra work for you when you return. But the long term payoff is worth it.
Train a backup person
Training a backup person — whether it’s a temporary employee or someone at the company who’s filling in for you — can help make life easier for you when you return to work. If you need tasks to be done in a very particular way, document them and go over them with your backup person before your vacation.
Communicate critical information
There’s never an ideal time to leave town, because something important is always going on. A client is waiting on critical information, a deal is about to happen, or a system change is scheduled during your vacation.
Be sure to communicate important information with key people, so that they can take the baton while you’re out. Give your clients or other partners plenty of advance notice, and provide contact information for the people who will fill in while you’re out.
If you have deliverables that are due during your paid time off, plan ahead so they’re ready to go before you leave town.
Don’t work on vacation
This is a big one! You may need to be reachable in case of an emergency, but don’t take work with you. Leave the laptop off, disconnect email from your phone, and don’t check in just to make sure everything is okay. If it’s not okay, they’ll call you.
Vacations Made for 2021
Can’t wait to go on vacation, but at a loss for what that would look like at the tail end of a pandemic? Here are some ideas for a COVID-safe getaway:
- Go camping or RVing
- Take a tour of amusement parks
- Visit museums or other attractions that are COVID-safe
- Visit a national park
- Travel to locations with low COVID numbers
- Rent a cottage on the beach
- Take a socially distanced road trip
If you’re fully vaccinated, you’ll have more options that you can take advantage of, with less worry.
Make Vacation a Policy
If you’re in a position to do it at your organization, make vacation mandatory for all employees. Require each person to take a certain amount of PTO and have managers keep their direct reports accountable. Also follow these best practices to help change the culture in your company:
- Lead by example — take vacation yourself!
- Provide ideas to employees.
- Make PTO a frequent topic.
- Encourage employees to share their vacation stories in department and all-company meetings.
- Make it easy to come back to work by giving people plenty of time and space to catch up.
At IDI, we believe in earned paid time off, with a specific amount of time available, as opposed to the current trend of unlimited PTO. While unlimited paid time off gives you the freedom to be out whenever you want, the model requires you to keep up with your daily workload year-round, even during family vacations. In contrast, the earned PTO model rewards you for your work and offers you the advantage of being supported by your colleagues while you’re out.
Vacation isn’t a nice thing to do when you can fit it in — it’s a necessary part of staying physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy. Your effectiveness at work depends on taking time off, and your family deserves uninterrupted time with you. Don’t let a pandemic get in the way — take steps now to enjoy a vacation this summer.