Most employees use a huge chunk of their vacation time during the summer months. COVID-19 has certainly increased stress levels, making a summer break even more important. However, employees are also reconsidering their vacation time as a result of the pandemic.

Recent research by Robert Half reveals how those plans have changed. According to the report, 37% of employees aren’t planning on taking a break during the summer; they plan to take it later in the year — and hope they’ll be able to travel by then.

Also, 28% of employees will take fewer days off compared to last summer. However, 16% will actually take more days off.

In addition, 20% of employees are taking time off, but not to go on vacation. They’re taking days off for a self-care and mental health staycation.

However, 14% of employees say they have too much work to do to take any time off during the summer months.

Why employees are taking fewer days off

The pandemic has affected companies in different ways. Some employees have been laid off, while others have been working from home. Workloads decreased for some workers, but actually increased for those at companies that never shut down during the pandemic. All of these factors can determine how workers view their vacation options.

“It’s certainly been a challenging time,” says Paul McDonald, senior executive director for Robert Half. “There has been so much uncertainty, not only around travel and personal safety, but also as it relates to job security, so it’s possible folks feel that they should be staying put.” In fact, 9% of survey respondents actually said they should stay put considering all that has happened. However, McDonald says even taking a staycation may be a good idea.

The importance of employees taking time off

Wellness experts always advise employees to take vacations, and that advice may be even more important now. “For months now we’ve been in the throes of this pandemic that’s impacted everyone differently, but surely, to some degree,” McDonald says. And when employees endure a particularly stressful time, he says recharging is important for employees, but also beneficial for companies. “Recharging allows you to bring your best self back to the office,” he explains.

“Even now, when it may take a bit more creativity to make the most of vacation time, the days and hours that are spent away from the office can be good for professionals.” From a self-care perspective, it can help to combat stress and prevent burnout. “This is beneficial not only for the employees themselves, but also the jobs and teams they come back to,” McDonald says.

The role bosses play in an employee's decision

However, regardless of how employees feel about taking time off, their bosses will undoubtedly influence their decisions. “Workers rely on their bosses to guide their behaviors, and often match and model after them, whether it’s regarding dress code or time off.” So, if they don’t see their bosses making time for themselves — or if the bosses aren’t encouraging people to take vacation time, employees may not be comfortable requesting time off.

“Even still, two-thirds of workers said that there has been no communication from their manager around using vacation days,” McDonald explains. “Leaders must look at the big picture. While it is summertime and all of the typical milestones and holidays are passing on the calendar, nothing quite feels normal, so workers may need a bit more of a push to take the time they’re entitled to, if nothing else, to avoid burning out.”

How bosses can be more accommodating

Since some employees are taking their cues from their bosses, McDonald has the following advice. “Managers need to make their people feel safe — especially right now, while some teams are doing more with less and others are just getting back to ramping up projects that may have been put on hold in order to reprioritize for the pandemic.”

He suggests that managers remind employees — and themselves — of the importance of resting and recharging. “Before your regular check-ins with team members, make it a point to remind those who haven’t taken any vacation time that they should try and do so,” McDonald says.

Here’s an example of how to say that: “I see you’ve only used four vacation days this year; I know it’s been busy and vacation may be unconventional, but please try and make time for yourself — I don’t want you burning out.” McDonald says this will let employees know you’re paying attention. “It shows that you care about them, and their future with the company, even though everything may feel a bit unbalanced.”