In 2022, the feeling that we always need to be on and available for work is both pervasive and problematic. In fact, even before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, 2 out of 3 U.S. employees reported working while on vacation, and now that many people can work remotely, that number is likely going up.  

But the ability to work from anywhere, anytime, is a double-edged sword—especially when you’re trying to take a very necessary vacation. It means that you could, hypothetically, hop on a plane and dial in from Oaxaca or Prince Edward Island. But it also means that you’re missing valuable relaxation and sightseeing time while you’re there. Starring out the window on a gorgeous, sunny day while trying to pay attention to a meeting that should’ve been an email is painful enough while working from home, but doing it from a hotel you’re paying an arm and a leg for is downright torture. Not to mention those anxiety-inducing work emergencies that always seem to pop up just as you’re heading out to dinner. The worst.

Unfortunately, creating the right work-vacation balance isn’t a problem employees can solve on their own (it’s tempting, but throwing your phone into the ocean is probably a bad idea). The fact of the matter is, whether you work in the office or in a yurt, prioritizing time off starts at the top, and it’s as much about a company’s policies as it is about its culture and norms. And, as many employees will tell you, very few companies get it right.

But some do, and Etsy is a great example. The maker marketplace is known for its generous PTO policy and perks, which, according to Nora Lorenzo, Etsy’s Director of the HR Business Partner Team, include 20-25 days off per employee (depending on tenure), an unlimited sick-day policy, regularly occurring “breaksgivings,” 11 company holidays, and 2 floating holidays. Tally that up, not including any sick days, and Etsy employees are looking at close to 2 months off a year.

We spoke to Lorenzo to learn how Etsy fine-tuned its strategy for supporting all employees, including remote and hybrid workers, in their quest to unplug, and what a difference it’s made in the lives of everyone on the Etsy team.

Maximize Pre-PTO Productivity

It may sound obvious, but one way to take uninterrupted PTO is by having all your work done before you leave. This is obviously a challenge for most American workers, who are expected to do far more than humanly possible in 40 hours a week, but there are some strategies companies can adopt to make it more realistic for their employees.

“At Etsy, we try to set folks up to ensure that while they’re at work, they're able to be as productive as possible and make the best use of their time so they don’t have to use their personal time or time that otherwise would've been with their family to get through work,” says Lorenzo. “And the first step in that process is having them figure out their own best work mode. For example, some employees prefer to be in the office full time, while others (including myself), prefer hybrid or fully remote.” A flexible membership to Daybase allows your team to make a schedule that works for them.

Etsy also allows for flexible hours, especially for parents. “Parents of young children may need to sign off at 5 PM, but then find that they’re really productive between 8 and 9 PM after the kids are in bed. So they might work later and they’ll schedule their emails for the next morning.” (Lorenzo is a BIG fan of using scheduling tools on Gmail and Outlook to prevent false urgency within your team).

Like many companies that had to navigate new normals during the pandemic, Etsy also established “Focus Days,” or days without meetings, which became popular after people found themselves in back-to-back Zoom meetings all day, unable to answer a single email, let alone grab a snack or check on their kids. Etsy took Focus Days one step further by rolling out what they call “Prime Time,” which takes place between 11 AM and 1 PM EST. “We advise that the majority of meetings take place during this time, including big company meetings, and meetings with cross-functional groups in different time zones.” Prime Time prevents employees from being surprised by a 2-hour, 4 PM meeting, and gives them more control of their calendars.

The purpose of all of these time management perks and policies is to establish healthy boundaries and expectations for employees, so they’re better able to work while they’re working, and unplug when they’re not.

Communicate Clearly and Often

People often end up working while on vacation because they’re unable or unwilling to let another person take the reins. But this is not how good teams are built or maintained, and it can actually be detrimental to a company’s success (how many projects are delayed because “So-And-So is out this week?”). That’s why having an “emergency game plan” is essential for successfully taking PTO.

“When you're on PTO, you should have a coverage plan so folks can step in for you,” says Lorenzo. “Let your teammates know you’re going to be away, and give them time to prepare.” Lorenzo also recommends casually reminding not just your team, but your manager about your PTO dates, so they don’t drop anything on your plate last minute or leave any pending projects open while you’re away. “Some of our team members will indicate how many days until they're going on PTO in their Slack status. So if they’re taking PTO on Monday, on Friday, they put ‘One day until PTO’ in their status. That way, every time someone reaches out to them, they’re communicating that they’ll be away soon.”

Of course, work emergencies are sometimes unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean they should be painful. “We regularly message to managers the need to be flexible and support our teams during really busy times,” says Lorenzo. “If something comes up, someone may have to work a bit more that day or that week, but maybe the next week is slower. And their manager can give them more personal time then. On the ground, [offering flexibility] has given managers some freedom and discretion to navigate these situations.”

Be a Good PTO Role Model

When it comes to establishing the boundaries and procedures needed to support employee PTO, Lorenzo always looks at the company’s norms from the top down. “[At Etsy] we strongly encourage employees to truly step away when they take PTO, but it takes a bit of modeling as leaders, too,” she explains. “I took almost two weeks of PTO just a week ago, and my team felt prepared for me going out. They were able to handle anything that came up because we had a plan. The behavior I model is not checking Slack very often while I'm on PTO, and I think it gives teams permission [to unplug] when they see leadership modeling such behavior.”

Modeling healthy PTO behavior should start in the C-suite, but in order for it to become a company norm, the whole company needs to buy in. This means all managers, whether they oversee one person or sixty, must prioritize taking time off without interruption, and make sure every member of their team knows they can, too.

Thanks for reading this far. Now it’s your turn to do the talking. Let us know how hybrid work is working (or not working) for you. You can find us in all the usual places: Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter.