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Why this HR executive encourages her team to delete all the emails they get on vacation


Desiree Pascual leads HR at Headspace Health for approximately 1,000 people. She is also the company’s chief people officers. Even though she has a busy schedule in a period of hypergrowth, that doesn’t stop her from going on three weeks to Spain each summer to see her family.

Pascual says that she will be absent for the majority of July, and plans to return around the winter holidays. “A once-a year vacation in this environment is insufficient,” Pascual told CNBC Make It.

She says, “It is essential to take your time without apologies and fully and completely.”

Pascual, now 58 years old, admits she doesn’t apologize for taking time off. She also says that she is skeptical about unlimited PTO and once sent her out-of office message using emojis.

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Headspace Health has a PTO policyUnlimited

What she thinks about unlimited PTO Headspace Health has been the only company where I was able to take unlimited time off. It was a difficult idea to believe it could work. People tend to be passionate about their work in a mission-driven organization like ours and overwork. When the pandemic hit, I was a new employee at my company. I explained that we had to be able to say “take what you need” but also make it operational. Each Friday has a Mind Day, which is an all-company day where everyone can be themselves. We also formalized different types of leave: generous maternity leave, paternity leave, bereavement leave — different types of leave that speak to the way people live.

Her emoji out-of-office message: My last-of-office email was sent in emojis. Instead of the two-line, generic, and cold replies we often see, I tried to add some creativity and warmth. My goal was to get the attention of my readers and have them laugh about it. They talk about out-of-office messages because they discuss time off. This is normalized and celebrated.

This was also a playful way to share information about my trip. The next time I saw someone, they’d say “I saw a Spanish Flag in your message.” Please tell me what you did in Spain.

Desiree Pascual used emojis for her office message to get people to think about their PTO plans.

She plans to remove vacation email messages this year.My out-of-office email message for this year is different. It will be something like this: “I am on vacation. I won’t review any emails while I travel, nor after I get back.”

Nothing is worse than returning home from two weeks of vacation to find a mountain of email messages that have made you feel even more stressed.

I plan to start over when I return and encourage my teammates. It worked wonders when we started this while I was at Kaiser Permanente. This is pure magic when you’re able to do it for your staff.

How she feels about taking off time: No. It’s not true. Also, I am a registered therapist. This gives me an insight into the mental and emotional processes of human beings. You don’t have to take the time or feel guilty about it. It’s not a vacation. Instead, you get a lower workload while you’re away.

Unplugging your work device: I tend to unplug for most things because I realize that any other activity is not productive and will hinder my goal of getting time off. We leaders try to communicate clearly our intent to completely unplug and the reasons why it matters. It is then that you do it. Leaders’ words are far less important than the actions of leaders.

Worrying about Work Emergencies: It’s possible to solve any problem. Many of those things you feel are emergencies don’t really need to be. You can use the expertise and brilliance of your team to solve any problem without having to disturb the vacation-loving people.

How she would advise her 25-year old self on taking time for herself: Don’t hesitate to do so. Although I can’t speak for all, I am a first-generation immigrant. We often feel pressured to prove our worth because there are so many hurdles to conquer. My younger self would tell me to do it. If you do, it will pay off.

This interview has been edited to ensure clarity and length.

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