time offSomeone asked me a tricky question the other day, and in thinking through the answer I realized that there are a whole lot of people working from home these days who never planned to—at least for months at a time. As a result, companies and workers are faced with some sticky situations that aren’t covered in the employee handbook. One of those is the idea of asking for time off when you’re already working from home.

Workers are getting weary

There are a few reasons people are reluctant to take personal time—especially here in the US. The simple fact is that too many people have worked since mid-March without a break. Why is that?

  • Since the pandemic hit, and people were sent home, it’s been an “all-hands-on-deck” situation. A lot of us don’t want to let the team down, even though we might be personally running on fumes.
  • One person who was complaining about being physically and mentally exhausted asked, “What’s the point of taking time off when we’re locked down? It’s not like we can go anywhere.”
  • Many people are unsure of what the next few weeks and months hold, especially when it comes to their children’s school schedule.
  • Nobody else has asked for time off, and people are concerned they’ll look like they aren’t team players.

These have been unprecedented times for you and almost everyone you know. Even if the work itself hasn’t gotten harder and more stressful (and my guess is it has), the circumstances of our lives certainly create additional stresses and challenges. Being isolated from people, or cooped up with the same people every day for months at a time, working harder than usual to get the same amount of work done, learning new skills and remembering to mute before yelling at the dog on Zoom meetings has us all exhausted.

How to get the break you so desperately need

North Americans in particular seldom take all the time off due them, even in the best of times. For the majority of us the last four months or more haven’t been a party. Here are some things to consider when asking for the break you so richly deserve:

  • Find out from HR or on your schedule how many personal or vacation days you have coming to you. Odds are you have a number of them saved up, probably more than you thought. If you don’t use at least some of them now, you will either lose them or be forced to take them at a time that’s more convenient for the company than for you.
  • Speak honestly to your manager. Explain that you have personal days due and feel you need to take some of them soon. You don’t have to explain in any more detail than you are comfortable. After all these are terms of your employment both sides already know about. But the more notice you can give, the better the request will be received.
  • Ask your manager about the workload and when it would make sense to take the time. Being a good teammate is important to you and your boss. You don’t want to leave the team stuck, and you probably aren’t aware of whether your teammates have requested time off. (Another reason to do it now so you don’t lose out)
  • You might be used to taking multiple days, even a week or two in a row for vacation; but under the circumstances, think about taking a couple of Mondays or Fridays off and giving yourself some long weekends. Remember, it’s the number of days you take, not how many in a row that matter.
  • When you decide on scheduled days off, be a good teammate. Let people know when you’ll be unavailable and for how long. Use your status updates on email and your team collaboration tools so that you aren’t inconveniencing other people. It’s hard to enjoy a day off with a guilty conscience.
  • Stay out of your office. Turn off your email. Close work-related apps on your phone. Even if you are staying home (and you probably are) it can be hard to fight the siren call of duty. Do what you can do to physically and psychologically distance yourself.
  • Make a plan for your time off.  Make plans with your family, a lunch date with your spouse,  or take the dog to the park, but have a plan or you will be tempted not to take full advantage of your time off. You are taking time for yourself, not just burning days on the calendar.

A lot of people are tired, stressed and not working at full capacity out of sheer mental exhaustion. Do yourself, and your team, a favor and be good to yourself.

Not only is this good advice for you personally, but it’s good for the team, too. You can learn more about being a great remote teammate in our 12 Weeks to Being a Great Remote Teammate learning program. You can also pre-order our upcoming book, The Long-Distance Teammate.


Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. You can pre-order Kevin and Wayne’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, now.

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Wayne Turmel has been writing about how to develop communication and leadership skills for almost 26 years. He has taught and consulted at Fortune 500 companies and startups around the world. For the last 18 years, he’s focused on the growing need to communicate effectively in remote and virtual environments.

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  1. Good points. I’ve had no issue taking time off and going no where and I have no issue with my team requesting to use their PTO and going no where. I agree – we all need a break from routine – whether from employer’s office or home office.

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