Midway through the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, Humi, a human resources, benefits and payroll solutions company, noticed an interesting trend in data from its client database — Canadian employees had taken 40 per cent less vacation days in 2020 than in the year prior. The company tracks vacation requests that come through their internal system and does a deep dive every six months, publishing the results on an annual basis.

Vacations are an employee’s right, points out Andrea Bartlett, the company’s director of human resources. Yet, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic that forced many people to rapidly shift to remote working, and subsequently blurred the lines between work-life balance, employees were more hesitant than ever to take time away from their jobs.

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For this reason, Bartlett says employers should be open to having proactive conversations with their employees about taking the time to tend to their self care and overall mental well-being. “Employers should be proactive about how they’re talking to their team and to their employees about taking vacation time because it isn’t a luxury that requires travel and escape. Vacation really is an opportunity to reconnect and recharge.”

Of course, Bartlett says, it’s a struggle these days, when people are limited to their social bubbles, but now is the time for employees to reconnect with other things in their lives and disconnect from work. Conversations about more personal issues have traditionally been on the periphery in business settings as there’s been a very clear distinction between the office and home life. She says in this post-pandemic world, the boundary isn’t as clear, and burnout and mental-health issues are on the rise.

Read: Canadians to leave 40 million vacation days unused in 2018: report

Bartlett believes employers are now recognizing the importance of employee self care, and in response to the current working environment, many employers are modifying existing policies to allow employees to carry over vacation time to the following fiscal year. The most common alterations are increasing the carry-over cap (by an average of five days), or extending the carry-over expiry period (by an average of four months).

However, she added many small- to medium-sized businesses within Canada that use Humi’s services still have policies in place that don’t allow vacation time to be carried over into the next year, so employees in this situation would have to use them. She says this might explain why, in December, Humi’s data showed a marked increase (15 per cent) in time-off and vacation requests taken. She notes it could also have been due to the holiday season or simply employees recalibrating their priorities.

Whatever the reason, Bartlett considers the uptick a trend in the right direction because it denotes that people were more proactive in taking time off to really re-charge and reconnect with home and family members. “What the information shows is Humi’s clients are starting to recognize flexibility and employee-centric conversations are becoming paramount in creating a work environment that truly reflects what employees need in a pandemic and post-pandemic working environment.”

Read: U.S. employers tweaking vacation, paid-time-off policies amid pandemic: survey