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To the many professionals working from home and yearning for the days of working near coworkers, the coronavirus pandemic may feel interminable now. A long commute in traffic to an impersonal cubicle never sounded so good.

But when offices do begin to open up again, many companies will be dealing with the opposite problem: Many employees will want to escape the office and use their accrued vacation days and paid time off.

To be sure, this is a much-needed and hard-earned break. As we navigate the trials and tribulations of the pandemic, many of us are working more hours than ever before. In the US, it’s estimated that employees are working 40 percent more, adding three hours to the average workday. Consequently, 25 percent of employees report the pandemic has contributed to their stress and left them feeling burned out.

It’s clear that part of the recovery process will involve employees taking their well-deserved vacation time as summer arrives. Of course, companies don’t want to start ramping up operations again just to see productivity fall as employees take vacation in droves. Luckily, this is a manageable problem. Here’s how to support employees and maintain operational continuity when managing time off after the pandemic:

1. Understand Your Exposure

Does your organization have insights into your employees’ accrued time off? The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted many traditional vacation patterns, potentially leaving employees with an abundance of PTO to use when things settle into the new normal. However, this isn’t necessarily the case. Understanding your exposure can help you craft policies and procedures that support employees’ well-being without compromising organizational opportunity.

2. Eliminate the Use-or-Lose Rule

For good reason, most organizations impose a use-or-lose policy on personal time off. In normal times, this prevents employees from accruing and cashing in on incredible amounts of PTO. However, these are not normal times.

To avoid a rush to use PTO by the end of the year, eliminate this rule for 2020 and extend the deadline to the second quarter of 2021 or beyond. This will spread out the burden, lessening the impact on operational continuity while reminding employees that you care about their well-being.

3. Implement Scheduling Tools

Given the many schools out of session, additional family responsibilities to account for, and other COVID-related disruptions, you can expect a high volume of PTO requests in the next year. Even if you extend accrued PTO into 2021, managing these requests can quickly become problematic. Now is the time to assess the efficacy of your PTO scheduling methods and management tools.

Your existing solutions not only need to handle a high volume of requests, but also need to be able to adjudicate those requests to ensure operational continuity. If your current processes can’t accommodate these needs, consider adopting a new approach that meets the moment.

Additionally, employees want to know your organization has a plan for managing their PTO, and they are more likely to take time off if they feel the company supports them in doing so. Even before the pandemic, more than half of all employees were reticent to use their vacation time. Time away is critical to employee well-being, and deploying user-friendly scheduling tools can ensure more employees take the time off they need without disrupting business continuity.

4. Give Extra Days to Show Appreciation

Employees who use their vacation days are happier and more productive. At the same time, granting employees paid time off is an easy way for a company to show employees it cares, which goes a long way in attracting and retaining the best talent. Simply put, allowing employees to prioritize their personal well-being benefits everyone.

Companies can heighten these rewards while mitigating inevitable scheduling conflicts by offering employees additional time off for graciously accepting scheduling requirements. For instance, this might mean:

• Offering additional, across-the-board paid time off for all employees
• Developing a reward system for employees inconvenienced by these unforeseen circumstances
• Creating a dynamic leave system that gives employees flexibility when managing COVID-19 fallout

5. Plan to Return to Normal(ish)

The temporary problems posed by COVID-19 are lasting longer than many people expected they would. While many organizations are trying to plan for an eventual return to normal, remember that lodestar is likely to be elusive. In other words, scheduling may continue to be problematic and nuanced even after a new normal has been established.

Managing employee absences probably isn’t at the top of most leaders’ minds right now, but it’s a significant responsibility that is inexorably headed your way. By planning for this problem now, organizations can ensure they remain productive and supportive throughout the challenging times ahead.

In a post-COVID-19 environment, leaders will be defined, in part, by how they support their employees and spur their organizations to success. Planning for post-pandemic PTO requests can help achieve both.

Alan Tyson is the CEO of DATABASICS. Connect with Alan on LinkedIn and follow the company on Twitter.

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