With holiday festivities and family get-togethers coming to an end, most of us are preparing to launch back into familiar work routines and gear up for the coming year. Before you lose that fleeting feeling of renewal, commit to extending it throughout the year. Here’s one suggestion – use all the vacation time you’ve earned. Believe it or not, too many of us don’t. For nearly two decades, the number of hours of paid time off (PTO) taken by employees has decreased. According to the U.S. Travel Association, more than 768 MILLION PTO hours went unused in 2018. Some of the unused days were rolled over, but many employees lost unused, non-accruable PTO. Why does this matter? Too often, being overtired and frazzled results in more mistakes, more conflict, and even more work. On the flip side, multiple studies have shown that when we step away and fully utilize our PTO benefits annually, we have higher levels of performance and productivity. In organizations where PTO is fully used, morale is higher, the use of sick leave decreases, and employee retention is greater. Because of the fast pace and constant demands in today’s work environment, a long weekend or several days of vacation don’t usually give us an opportunity to “refresh and rejuvenate.” More downtime allows us to come back renewed, more productive, and with a new perspective on our work. We may even identify new ideas and solutions to long-term issues and problems. How can you encourage and assist your staff to make use of their annual PTO? • First, walk your talk. If you don’t set an example by taking time off, your employees surely won’t listen to what you say. • Reinforce that using earned PTO is important and check in regularly to ensure they are planning time off. • Identify solutions to allow employees using PTO to leave with a clear mind, without worrying about what’s happening while they’re gone. • Treat vacation like any other project – planned, approved, recorded and executed. Allow all employees equal and fair access to their PTO based on organizational policies. • If a staff member isn’t taking time off, encourage them to take at least a day a month or to extend long weekends or holidays. Finally, make sure to unplug while you’re on vacation. Just because you can work anyplace in the world, DON’T. Leave your devices off. So, book that trip, plan that cruise, schedule that visit and invest in yourself. You’ve earned it. Stuart Karasik has spent most of his career in the human resources/personnel arena. He has a Ph.D. in education, a master’s in biology, and was previously the training program manager for the City of San Diego.