5 Ways Employers Unlock the Strategic Power of Vacation

It’s no secret that employers are waging a talent war. Vacation or paid time off (PTO) can be one of the most powerful tools in an organization’s recruitment and engagement arsenal but is significantly underutilized. That’s according to an article for which The Washington Post recently interviewed me, “The one benefit workers want more than anything is an unlimited vacation policy.” As I noted in the article, “The value of time away from work has increased exponentially for people because there is no boundary — or there’s very little boundary. The promise of a chunk of time where people can just forget about work is increasing at a rate that organizations are not leveraging.”

Here are five steps every organization can follow to position, promote and manage their vacation/PTO offerings to stand out as both a strategic business initiative and an employee attraction/retention tool:

Position vacation/PTO as a form of work flexibility an employee can actively use to fit their work and life together. Increasingly, employees have access to informal flexibility in how, when and where they work allowing them to remain somewhat accessible to take care of needs such as medical appointments or parent-teacher conferences without taking PTO. But, when they need or want to disconnect from work entirely, they can choose PTO. Two different objectives can be achieved based on the employee’s needs and discretion – and on their terms.

Regularly prompt employees to plan and coordinate their vacation/PTO. When viewed as a benefit an employee is responsible for managing, too often vacation/PTO is either put off or not well-coordinated with other team members – especially during prime vacation and holiday times. Either way, the result is unhappy, burned out employees. Instead, every quarter, managers should send out a reminder and shared calendar link encouraging people to commit to time off. This way, managers can block off periods of “limited vacation requests” during busier periods and address any conflicts at other times in advance.

Set up a vacation/PTO coordination and communication protocol. To unlock the value of vacation/PTO for employees, and to ensure the ability to disconnect genuinely, it helps to have a vacation coordination and communication protocol that everyone follows. For example:

  • People choose vacation coverage buddies who commit to understanding the status of their buddy’s workload and coverage needs and then return the favor.
  • Establish a vacation responsiveness protocol. Leave a clear out of office auto-response that outlines when you’ll be back and who is covering for you, and set parameters in advance with teammates under what circumstances you can be reached and how.
  • Block off the first few hours back in the office to catch up and ease back into work mode. No one wants to return from vacation with a back-to-back meeting schedule and risk completely losing the sense of well-being gained from being away.

Celebrate vacations! As a manager, periodically share what you did over vacation. Ask for volunteers to share their vacation highlights. Add this as an agenda item at the end of a staff meeting or virtually share a photo or video clip. It doesn’t have to be glamorous. Even if it’s a staycation and “I visited a local museum” that’s something to celebrate!

Promote your organization’s vacation/PTO package, as well as your commitment to making those meaningful breaks happen, in your recruiting process. Don’t let vacation/PTO get lost in the pack of all of the other “benefits” offered. Acknowledge that your organization values vacation/PTO and sees it as a gain for both employees and the business.  

What does your organization do to encourage people to take a vacation and to make those breaks real and meaningful?

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