From the archives, Work Stuff

From the archives: Taking that PTO

There has been a lot of change and movement in the world thanks to COVID and the Great Resignation, and people have been thinking and rethinking the idea of “time off”. Anne Peterson has a good column about why the “feel free to take time off” directive doesn’t work as well as it could, mostly because of our ingrained cultural and professional ideas.

While I know that PTO means Paid Time Off, I like to think of it as Personal Time Off. Maybe it’s because once I made the move from the corporate world to academia, I lost the ability to determine my own vacations? Travel during a real down time for the rest of the world isn’t possible when there are classes to cover and books to process and students to help, in large part because independent schools are really bad at arranging for substitute teachers/librarians/educators. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about the breaks we get during the school year! I’m just saying that it’s not possible to choose when I get that time off.

But… even during the Breaks, as a department chair and manager of a space and librarian, people tend to assume I’m ready to respond to an email request pretty much all the time. And there’s that part of me that also does feel guilty stopping the professional stuff to just relax (as I type this, I’m binge watching–it’s a great way for me to not feel guilty about simply vegging out in front of the tv). COVID has exposed people’s health frailties, but in a good way: people are less likely to struggle through a day with a migraine or come in when not feeling great because it could be COVID or another contagious disease. It’s also made it easier to Work From Home, so when I have had physical issues I’ve been able to be productive while not physically being at my desk.

Bad Laura.

Ann writes “For managers, that means modeling the behavior yourself: taking sick days, and personal days, and extended PTO, and being transparent about it — and not sneakily working in the margins.” Ok, she’s talking about a workplace that is more corporate in nature, but looking at it from a school perspective, the “sick days” and “not sneakily working in the margins” are critical. And if you think of it as Personal Time Off, it’s even more important for managers to model good management.

I’ve tried, adding an Out of Office message that says I won’t be checking email frequently. No one believes it. Or pays attention. Or maybe those messages just go into spam? Because I’ve gotten second and third requests within a few hours. I’ve had people call my cell or home phone. And yes, that’s partly what I signed up for. But there are schools where the message from the Head of School down is that no one is expected to read or respond to emails “off hours” (after school, on weekends and on breaks). What a wonderful relief for that to be the school culture!

My goal for this summer is to indulge in some real Personal Time Off, albeit less time than I’d originally hoped for thanks to the End of Year mess due to the start of construction and renovation. Still, I will take that time. I will not check anything other than my personal email. I will not watch something and do work. And I will not feel guilty for doing that.

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