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PTO for Mental Health:

How to Encourage Employees to Use It

By Kimberly Kafafian


Stress in the workplace is nothing new, but until the pandemic, employee mental health was a topic rarely discussed or addressed. Now, thank goodness, it’s at the forefront of the employee experience – as it should be. A recent American Psychological Association survey found that 71% of workers believe their employer is more concerned about employee mental health now than in the past. With 81% of workers wanting to align themselves with companies that support their mental health, organizations that aren’t focusing on cultivating a mentally healthy workplace need to make it a priority. If this statistic isn’t enough to spur action, companies should take note that doing so can also benefit the organization overall, as stress can cause productivity, creativity, and performance to dip.

One way of supporting your workers’ mental wellbeing is to encourage them to utilize PTO as a way to decompress. HR teams can take the lead here. I work hand-in-hand with leadership on developing strategies promoting the importance of mental health days. Below are some of the steps I recommend for pushing employees to take their PTO to recharge and refresh.

Promoting PTO for Mental Health 

Remove the stigma, fear, and guilt associated with using PTO for non-vacation purposes by creating a culture where employees are encouraged to take time off for self-care or to spend with their families.

Build the Importance of Taking PTO into Communications

In newsletters, email blasts, webinars, town halls, and staff meetings remind workers to utilize their allotted time off to rest and renew. Share information on the benefits of enjoying time away from the workplace, along with fun snippets of what co-workers are doing with their PTO to inspire others to follow suit.

Have Management Lead by Example

One of the best ways to encourage employees to utilize their PTO is by having management take time off themselves. This demonstrates that you understand the importance of downtime and that your team will not be judged for taking time away from work.

Create a Well-Defined PTO Policy

In addition to outlining how many days off are allowed, you should also:

  • Stress that there is no requirement to say why need day off
  • Formalize that there is no employer contact during PTO – the whole point of time off is to take a break from work
  • Define PTO as more than vacation days so workers feel free to use them as they need them
  • Highlight that using PTO for mental health days is welcomed

Employees need time to recharge and refresh. It is up to management to encourage them to take time off – for the sake of their team’s mental health and the financial health of the company.

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