By Michelle Sedlacek, Director of People at GuideSpark
After dealing with setting up crisis communications, new workplace safety, and remote work policies, HR teams are now experiencing the next pandemic business impact: a PTO crisis. HR needs to leverage technology to design creative communications that engage employees with new PTO policies or the benefits of taking time off.
This year has been full of unexpected events and massive changes that have not only impacted our day-to-day personal lives, but also the way we approach our professional lives, including work-life balance. Already a sensitive topic for employers and employees alike, paid time off (PTO) has become even trickier during this pandemic era. Employees have become much less likely to use vacation time while borders are closed and many are working from home, which means HR teams are now forced to rethink their policies and processes to fit their employees’ new normal. Whether offering traditional accrued time off or a flexible time off program, organizations are in a position to see a major negative impact if employees don’t use their time off in a dispersed way ideally before the end of the year.
Reasons for avoiding time off may vary, depending on the employee’s situation; they may just simply be saving their PTO for when travel restrictions ease up, or, if your company has seen negative business effects due to the pandemic, it might also be a reaction and an impulse to keep the company running as well as possible – or even as a way to support their own job security. No matter the reasoning, employees avoiding time off has potentially severe repercussions. Without a focus on your employees’ mental health and wellness, you’re opening the door for serious professional burnout, leading to decreased talent retention and declining overall productivity. And, if employees are used to a “use-it-or-lose-it” policy, you may end up with a significant portion of your workforce requesting time off in the same few final weeks of the year.
Policies around PTO, particularly more modern Flex Time Off programs, have been set up with limiting companies’ financial loss in mind and as a competitive recruitment strategy, but today, HR leaders need to seriously consider the accumulation of burnout that our workforce is experiencing as part of the pandemic – and get ahead of it with strategic planning and effective communications. Use these best practices for communication and technology to help mitigate the current PTO crisis:
- Actively reach out to managers
The best way to reassure employees that taking time off is a normal, active part of the company’s culture is to give managers the resources they need to have the right conversations with their team. Don’t leave your managers in the dark with PTO policy changes. Use collaboration products to set up ongoing communications to your people leaders with information about not only the company PTO policy but also educational pieces on the performance and wellness benefit of taking time off. On the same principle, automate communication reminders to encourage managers to take time off themselves, so they can lead by example and confidently encourage their team to take part, too (even if it’s for a staycation).
- Orchestrate targeted, personalized communication
PTO policies don’t impact all employees in the same way. Use short, clear communications that are tailored to specific employee groups and suit their unique circumstances – for example, acknowledge different policies for exempt employees versus non-exempt, or contract employees with a different set of restrictions. Communications should be designed to best support the change they’re accompanying, so start strategizing your messaging with your audience at the forefront.Your employee population is dispersed, and remote work only intensifies any sense of isolation or disconnection. Adapt your communication channels, like intranet sites, mobile apps, and chat tools, to your audience, and think about the best ways to reach them where they already are. Deskless workers, for example, may be best reached via text message, while factory workers may prefer to scan a QR code on a poster, and employees working from home may be more accustomed to emails.
- Deliver an engaging communication experience
The world is full of distraction, and our new remote working environment has only made it worse. Our employees are used to quick, exciting, consumer-grade content in every aspect of their online lives – including, now, at work. To engage employees and break through the noise, HR teams need to start taking a marketing approach to communications. Start with building out exciting content experiences made of diverse assets – videos, infographics, printable PDFs, audio files, images. As you create your suite of PTO policy communications, it’s especially important to consider how to make your key messages as digestible and clear as possible.And don’t forget, engaging communication experiences are not a one-way street. Make sure to gauge employee sentiment along the way, and collect feedback about the information you are sharing. Do they understand the changes you’re making? Do they have questions for their unique situation? Do they want more detailed information on your PTO program? HR leaders should consider using technology that leverages people analytics to better understand how they engage and consume information, so that they’re better able to adapt the program along the way.
Going forward, HR leaders should be considering how to update and scale a PTO program that’s flexible enough to account for major obstacles, like those we’ve seen in 2020. Using people leaders as your frontline resources, ensure that your workforce is comfortable using the PTO policy you’re implementing, with a healthy work culture around taking time off and prioritizing mental health, and use key communications to keep them informed and updated along the way.