CNN  — 

A few months into the pandemic, productivity was up at software development platform GitLab.

Increased productivity is typically good news, but this had leadership worried.

“With all the things that are falling apart in the world right now, we thought we probably shouldn’t be seeing productivity go up right now,” said Darren Murph, head of remote work at the San Franciso-based company.

“That served as a potential indicator people weren’t putting enough focus on their own well-being and using the pandemic as a form of escapism to work more.”

What’s more, people were taking fewer vacation days compared to last summer.

“The potential long-term consequences of that is that could be an early indicator that a large contingency of people were on the path to burnout and leadership should make sure that isn’t happening,” said Murph.

So the company created Family and Friends Day, a day when the entire company virtually shuts down and everyone takes the day off.

And with everyone off at the same time, that means workers aren’t returning to a big pile of work that their colleagues have passed along.

The first Family and Friends Day was May 1. There was also one in June and one last week to give working parents a little breather before the back-to-school rush.

Employees share how they spent their day away from the office in the #family-and-friends-day Slack channel.

“Having this day it’s a continual reminder you should invest in yourself and we encourage people to extend into the next week,” said Murph, who spent one of his days off mounting a guitar on his wall – a project he’s been putting off.

Telecom and networking giant, Cisco Systems is also encouraging employees to take time away during the pandemic by adding days off.

“Everybody is off. When you take PTO, you still kind of glance at your computer to make sure you aren’t missing anything because work is still gong on. But when everyone is off, you really feel like you have permissions to turn off your computer,” said Katelyn Johnson, global benefits - senior manager, life connections, people and communities.

The company gave employees and active contractors May 22 and August 28 off.

Show and tell

It’s one thing to send out emails reminding employees to take time off. But if the bosses aren’t heeding their own advice, workers aren’t going to feel comfortable taking time off.

At GitLab, executives announce in company wide Slack channels when they will be off. For instance, the whole company knew when CEO Sid Sijbrandij took time off recently.

“He didn’t have any meetings,” said Murph. “We all visibly see him modeling what PTO is. Leadership sets the tone.”

During weekly one-on-one meetings at San-Francisco-based Clockwise, managers keep tabs on employees’ time off, said CEO and co-founder Matt Martin.

“We monitor that and have an individual conversation with someone and tell them: ‘You really need to take some time off,’” said Martin.

The company also has a mandatory company wide PTO day once per quarter.

Martin asks that the managers reporting to him take a week off each quarter in order to encourage their direct reports to do the same.

Rotating who’s off when

Companies don’t have to shut down entirely to make sure employees have a day off.

At product intelligence platform company Amplitude, some teams take the first Friday of the month off or the first week of the quarter.

One team pairs employees with similar roles together and then allows them to take alternating Fridays off.

“Having a delegate you trade off with helps alleviate the guilt of someone covering for you, knowing they’ll get their turn and also ensures we aren’t holding up the business on anything,” said Lisa Nielsen, vice president of people, in an email to CNN Business.

“People are working longer hours as the boundaries between work and home have never been more blurred. Most people are under an unprecedented amount of universal personal stress whether it’s parents trying to juggle kids at home and work, people being separated from loved ones, trying to care for older relatives or navigating isolation,” Nielsen said.