This Has to Stop: 7 Ways to Finally Overcome PTO Guilt

To say that women feel guilty for taking time off is the understatement of the century. We’re all familiar with the toxicity of hustle culture, but actually acknowledging the importance of rest, taking well-earned PTO, and not feeling bad about it is about as foreign a concept as you can get. Our hours collect dust, or worse, expire because they’re unused, and we’re left with a big helping of burnout.

But what causes this guilt anyway? Who is benefitting from us not taking time off work? Because it sure as hell isn’t us. So what’s the hold-up? Taking time off is non-negotiable, as it’s vital for your mental health and well-being. Not to mention, PTO is meant to be used. With this confusion in mind, we investigated what causes PTO-induced guilt and how to finally overcome it. Ahead, the cure:

Why do we feel guilty for taking PTO?

Perhaps the biggest reason we feel guilty for taking time off is because we’ve been taught it’s something to be ashamed of. For years now, we’ve watched celebrities and influencers praise “the grind” by showcasing their daily routines. Wake up at 5 a.m., work out, cold plunge, check emails, work through lunch, head to a networking event, and work on a side hustle project before finally getting to bed by midnight. While we know this is unsustainable because you need downtime, we’ve been programmed to believe a round-the-clock hustle is the only way to win.

This message has only been amplified by how reachable we all are in this day and age; smartphones and technology have made checking our emails and replying to Slack messages too easy. And since our bosses and colleagues can contact us no matter what time or day it is, we’ve come to believe that being more available and doing more is the only way to achieve anything.

We’ve come to believe that being more available and doing more is the only way to achieve anything.

Finally, and arguably worst of all, there’s the FOMO on opportunities if you’re “off the grid” or even clocked out. Nothing’s scarier than the idea of falling behind. Plus, the last thing anyone wants is to be perceived as a woman who isn’t willing to do whatever it takes to reach her goals.

All of this is to say that employees, especially women, feel like they can’t take time off. God forbid we don’t solve someone’s 7 p.m. roadblock until 8 a.m. The whole place might go up in smoke, your career might suffer, and it would be all your fault, right?! Wrong. It’s time to rewrite this narrative.

7 ways to overcome PTO guilt

1. Shift your perspective

Society glorifies maximizing productivity 24/7, but working non-stop only leads to burnout. We all know your work ultimately suffers because of that. So, instead of feeling guilty for using PTO, shift your mindset to focus on the health benefits of it. Ironically, giving yourself time to recharge will boost your productivity more than working around the clock ever could. Plus, time off can also reduce stress and improve your mental health and well-being—all of which will improve your work performance in the long run.

2. Plan ahead

Changing gears from work mode to vacation mode isn’t always easy, but planning ahead can help immensely. Not only does this allow you to give your colleagues and boss a heads-up that you’ll be out of the office, but you’ll have more time to wrap up tasks before you log off. This might mean delegating tasks, turning in assignments early, cleaning out your inbox, or sending out a company-wide message reminding everyone you’ll be OOO soon.

Knowing everything’s taken care of because you prepared ahead of time will make it easier to put away work-related thoughts while you’re away and make you feel less guilty for being away from work. Plus, it always helps to have something to look forward to. Seeing “PTO” on your calendar for a few weeks will motivate you to keep your head down on work before your well-deserved break—regardless of whether you’re going on a getaway or relaxing at home.

Giving yourself time to recharge will boost your productivity more than working around the clock ever could.

3. Visualize your time away

Similar to how planning in advance can be beneficial, visualizing your time away can also help you get into the vacation mindset. Set aside some time to daydream about what you’ll do during your time off. Think about which places you’ll scope out, whether or not you’ll catch up with friends, consider DIY projects you’ll tackle, or curate a dreamy travel wardrobe. Imagining yourself on vacation is going to make it easier to disconnect from work. For once, you won’t think twice about logging off. PTO guilt? The vacation version of you doesn’t know her.

4. Repeat affirmations

Since guilt is an internalized, self-conscious feeling that can manifest after feeling like you’ve failed to do something, enlisting the help of vacation affirmations can be beneficial. Affirmations can shift your mindset and help you look at something in a new light. If you’re worried about how taking time off will impact your career, repeat these vacation affirmations to change the way you view and use valuable PTO:

  • My mind and body are prepared and ready to relax.
  • I deserve a break.
  • It’s OK to take time off.
  • I will use this time off to recharge and come back better.
  • Self-care is non-negotiable.
  • I have earned this PTO, and I deserve to enjoy it.
  • Everything at work is taken care of.
  • I am invaluable to my team, and I’ve earned time away.

5. Remember that PTO is a benefit that’s meant to be used

When it comes down to it, if PTO wasn’t important, it wouldn’t be there. After all, companies and bosses aren’t in the habit of handing out perks and compensation for no reason. Plus, we don’t feel guilty for taking advantage of other benefits, like holidays and health insurance. So, the next time you find yourself feeling guilty for taking time off, remember that PTO is a benefit that’s meant to be used. It’s there because it can help you rest, recharge, and come back to work better than ever. Since you accrue PTO days from your hard work, you deserve to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Since you accrue PTO days from your hard work, you deserve to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

6. Create a return plan

Stepping away from the grind is one thing—returning to it is another completely. Similar to the Sunday scaries, you might feel some anxiety about going back to work near the end of your PTO—this is natural! However, instead of letting that fear overwhelm you and prevent you from taking much-deserved time off, create a return plan before your PTO begins. This will help curb that anxiety and stress over returning to work and allow you to enjoy your break.

Chances are, you’re going to miss some things while you’re away, and that’s OK! To avoid walking back into chaos, though, ask your boss or a friendly co-worker if they’d be willing to email you the day before your return to get you up to speed on what happened while you were gone. Likewise, be sure to go over your work calendar for the week the day before as well to see what’s on the agenda. Doing these things will give you an idea of what you’re walking back into and help curb some of those anxious feelings about going back.

7. Evaluate your boundaries

Most of us admittedly have a hard time clocking out of work; we answer emails after hours, squeeze in extra work on the weekends, and take on more when our workload is already full. While there’s nothing wrong with working hard, this lack of boundaries only feeds into the narrative that we need to be on at all times. And, of course, makes us feel guilty for taking time off.

If overworking is something you often find yourself doing, it might be time to evaluate your boundaries with your job. Never giving yourself a much-needed break will only leave you burnt out, unproductive, and underperforming. Instead, prioritize work-life balance by establishing boundaries and letting yourself enjoy your time off. Doing this will shift your mindset and, in turn, alleviate any guilt you might have over using your PTO.

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