In normal times, the dreary winter months prompt employees to dream of mini getaways or major summer trips. But as workers across the country continue to delay vacations or time off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, employers risk waves of burnout and exhaustion threatening productivity.

To mitigate this risk, we’ve outlined five steps below for employers to encourage employees to take time off and prioritize mental health during these times of uncertainty.

Provide Clarity on Time Off Policies

Is your time off policy easily accessible and user-friendly? Has your handbook been recently updated? Employees are less likely to take time off if they cannot access or understand their organization’s policy. Hosting virtual information sessions is a great way to provide employees the opportunity to ask questions, weigh tradeoffs, and ensure all employees maximize their benefits. Managers can also get involved by discussing potential weeks or months for employees to schedule vacation and sending reminders of time off policies to direct reports via email or messenger applications.

Redefine “Time Off”

It’s become a norm to save time off and reserve it for formal vacations or family events. Given the pandemic, it’s important to encourage employees to rethink vacation time as a chance to relax, recharge, and prioritize self-care. Employers can provide suggestions for activities that center around family, mental health, or just moments of stillness. Employers might also send employees ideas for unique activities, such as playing tourist in their city or discovering a new hobby.

Demonstrate Care and Empathy Towards Employees

With all the stress and uncertainty of this moment, it’s critical for managers to check in regarding the needs and energy levels of their teams. Managers can give their employees daily relief by implementing informal time off, discussing the importance of taking breaks throughout the day, or creating blocks of “no meetings” time. Employees may use this time to take a lunch or coffee break, a quick walk around the block, or merely a chance to stretch and clear their mind. Doing something as small as stepping away from the computer or logging off a few minutes early can enhance one’s productivity or mood.

Encourage Shorter Breaks

Time off doesn’t require taking several days off—shorter breaks can also help people reenergize and refocus. Organizations might experiment with implementing half-day Fridays to allow employees the opportunity to spend more time away from their desks. Studies show that merely taking three consecutive days off can do wonders for one’s anxiety, stress, and mood (Kawakubo, Kasuga, & Oguchi, 2017).

Lead by Example & Team Culture

It’s important for leaders to take time off as well, both to personally reset and also to model effective behavior for employees—employees are more likely to do something when they see their managers doing it. Managers must also create an environment where employees feel comfortable asking for help or a critical break, leaning on each other, and sharing responsibilities around taking time off. Discourage “vacation shaming” and talk to employees about the importance of proper work-life balance.


During this time, it’s so easy to run on autopilot. Encouraging employees to take time off can lead to increased productivity, more mindfulness, and a more refreshed workforce ready to tackle challenges.


Kawakubo, A., Kasuga, M., & Oguchi, T. (2017). Effects of a Short-Stay Vacation on Mental Health. Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research, 22:5, 565-578, Retrieved from DOI: 10.1080/10941665.2017.1289228