Why PTO should be a staple in your company’s culture.

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For most of my career, I believed I had to check e-mails, be on conference calls, and tend to other work-related things while I was on vacation. This is what was expected, and what I thought was “normal,” and others followed suit.

PTO – what should stand for Personal Time Off – started being called Pretend Time Off. I would often return from a week of PTO feeling like I never left the office: I was still plugged-in and “on the grid” the entire time. In retrospect, I was not a very good role model when it came to the whole “work/life balance” thing.

Ten years into my career, a friend mentioned The Ashram Spa Resort in Calabasas, California to me. She described the retreat as a weeklong intensive “getaway” from the hustle and bustle of daily and career life. No cell phones, computers, or any sort of technology would be permitted, although the chance of boredom was slim to none: The Ashram planned various activities everyday guests must participate in, from yoga to cooking, allowing participants the chance to not only leave work at the door, but also “rejuvenate” themselves.

I’d be lying if I said the idea didn’t sound nice, but at the time, it also sounded unfathomable. With a full-time career, two sons, and a slew of constant travel to juggle, I unknowingly stored the idea away for a later time. That time came two weeks ago.

During the second week of October, I found myself unpacking my suitcase at the Ashram. While the idea sounded nice twenty years prior, and perhaps even at the time I booked my stay, I suddenly found myself out of my comfort zone. Without my cell phone, along with the other daily staples I’d been stripped from (including caffeine and sugar), I couldn’t help but question what I’d signed myself up for, or whether I’d be able to leave work at the door.

For the next seven days, I woke up at 5:30AM every morning, ate breakfast by 6AM, was at yoga by 6:30AM, and then spent the following 30-minute increments of every day participating in various “transformative” activities. I hiked ten miles. I watched the sunrise every morning. I exercised muscles in my body I forgot existed. I ate clean foods that fueled me for the multiple physical activities I participated in daily. Halfway through my stay at the Ashram, something started to happen.

Without the option to check my emails, I put my focus towards checking what activity was next on the daily schedule. By not being involved in issues at work, I put my focus on trusting my colleagues to handle any crisis that might arise in my absence, and I started thinking about myself and leaning into the experience.

It took me thirty years, but in just one week, I learned a valuable lesson. After seven days of unplugging, I returned to my home in Charlotte and my career at Adecco not only ready to embrace whatever was waiting for me, but excited to embrace it!

In a recent Gallup survey released early this year studying the US full-time workforce, 28% of millennials claim they frequently experience burnout at work. An additional 45% of millennials claim they sometimes feel burned out at work, totaling 73% of millennials experiencing some sort of burnout while on the clock – and that’s just one segment of our workforce. Studies show employees who experience burnout are 63% more likely to take a sick day and are 2 – 3 times more likely to leave their current employer. If we want to keep our high performers – and if we want our high performers to continue to perform – we must instill a Real Time Off vs. Pretend Time Off culture.

Here at Adecco, we pride ourselves on being one of the only Fortune 500 companies to offer a robust and unique benefits package, and that includes almost 4-weeks of PTO within your first year at the company. That time is not only earned, it should be used to truly disengage and give your mind, body, and spirit a break from what typically occupies your Monday – Friday, 8am – 5pm, (or, if you were like me, your 24/7.)

If you struggle to truly take and enjoy your PTO, here are 4 principles you need to remember that I learned while at The Ashram:

  • It’s okay to disengage; give yourself permission
  • Take time for yourself to re-energize and revitalize
  • Focus on your health and well being
  • By taking the time to disengage we are more engaged at work

I’m not alone in my prior struggles of using my PTO. According to a Glassdoor and Harris Interactive survey reported on by Forbes, only 25% of Americans use all of their paid vacation days.

I’m also not alone in my experience of returning from a work-free week feeling rejuvenated and reenergized about the tasks at hand: according to a follow-up report produced by Forbes, if employees just took 1 additional day of earned leave in a year, Forbes reports the impact could mean a $73 billion output for the US economy due to improved employee productivity. And that’s just the employer-facing end of the deal.

A similar report produced by The Huffington Post highlighting the employee advantages of PTO ran long, listing everything from reduced stress levels, improved heart and mental health, and stronger relationships. A paper published in the Journal of Happiness Studies evaluating the importance of paid time off found people felt less tense and healthier after returning from a vacation, with higher energy levels and more life satisfaction overall.

Whether an employer or employee, taking time off from work should be a staple in your company’s corporate culture, and PTO should mean RTO. Moving forward, I will be an apostle of this concept and encourage all colleagues to schedule, take, and enjoy their personal time off.

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