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Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Pandemic & PTO: Should You Take Time Off?

Most years, the majority of paid time off (PTO) requests come in between Memorial Day and Labor Day, with August alone accounting for 35%. However, COVID-19 has altered many summer travel plans. If you’re debating whether to use PTO, you aren’t alone.  

According to an EagleHill report, nearly half of American workers reported feeling burnt out or exhausted and need a break from work. However, with unemployment numbers reaching historic levels, many workers are concerned about asking for time off. If you’re contemplating asking for time off, here are a few things to consider: 

  •  Is your boss taking time off? Are other leaders? What about peers? If other employees within the organization are taking time off, it’s likely appropriate to ask about your own.  

  • Recall conversations leaders have had. Are they encouraging employees to use their time off? Did they pause all PTO requests in March and April and haven’t mentioned whether those can resume? If that’s the case, consider broaching the subject as other employees likely have questions as well.  

  • Ask HR whether the PTO policy has shifted since the pandemic. Don’t assume everything has remained the same – a lot has changed over the last 3 months and requesting vacation time isn’t an exception.  

  • Be prepared for the request to be denied. We are living in unprecedented times. Some businesses are booming, while others are struggling to keep their doors open. For many organizations, it’s all hands-on deck. This may mean that time off requests may be rejected or pushed off to a future date.   

  • In the case that you are unable to fully disconnect, consider asking if working half or partial days for a few days would be a viable option. In the case that is approved, schedule a block of time in the day that you will be available to answer emails or work on certain projects, then take the allocated time to unwind. Schedule these time blocks in a way that maximizes your mental energy and provides timely responses, but still allows you to step away for a break. 

  • If time off is approved, there may be a caveat. Employees may be asked to be accessible or even work during their vacation time.  


If time off is approved, make sure your team and manager aren’t left in the lurch. Here’s how:  

  • Ensure you are aware of any travel restrictions or advisories your company may have, including if they will require you to self-quarantine post travel, before coming back into the office 

  • Be flexible. Acknowledge how everyone’s summer plans and workloads have been affected and know that your plans may need to be altered, even if the time off is approved.  

  • If time off is approved, create a list of current projects, and the status of responsibilities. Be ready to discuss this with your manager and the plan to hit deadlines. Remember, many organizations are “all hands on deck” and you may not be able to offload work to teammates at this time. 

  • Decide with your manager if you still need to be available to respond to texts or emails. Determine a schedule of when you will be available, if need be. Offering certain hours that you are able to log in may help alleviate some of the stress placed on teammates and may reduce the number of calls or texts received during other times of the day. 

  • Determine who the point of contact should be for questions or requests that need to be addressed immediately. If you are unable to be reached, this person should be prepped ahead of time. 

  • Before leaving for vacation, create schedule for the first week back. This will ensure you’re ready to hit the ground running 


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