Employers: Encourage Employees to Take PTO for the Good of the Company
Workspan Daily
March 01, 2023
Key Takeaways

  • Employees are taking fewer vacations. Since 1980, the rate of employees taking vacations has decreased by nearly half. When they take time off, it tends to be shorter, often less than a week.  
  • More than half of Americans don’t use all their vacation time. Working without adequate time off can lead to burnout and decreased productivity, damaging mental and physical health.  
  • Organizations benefit when employees take time off. A well-rested employee generally is efficient, has fewer unplanned absences and stays with an organization longer.  

Employees are taking far fewer sick and vacation days than they did in the past.  

According to an analysis by the Washington Post based on Census Data, since 1980, the employee vacation rate has dropped by nearly half. With fewer employees taking time off, physical, mental and emotional health problems are exacerbated.  

Employers may see benefits to this trend, because, in theory, less time off equals more work done. But in reality, it should be a major red flag.  

Employees who do not use their time away from the office, either by choice or other circumstances, are affected in many ways, said Regan Reynolds, an HR professional and founder of Kith & Kin Consulting. Adverse effects include mental health issues, physical ailments and making more mistakes 

Knowing that PTO can improve an employee's overall well-being should be enough motivation for companies to make it a priority. However, if that’s not enough, there are other work-related benefits to employees taking time off. 

“Employers can benefit in many ways,” Reynolds said, “including [employees being more] efficient in the workplace, reducing unplanned absences, improvement in employee retention and morale, more diversity within the workplace and increased innovation.”  

Tara Furiana, HR expert and author of the upcoming book, “Take Your PTO,” notes more time off for employees could actually mean business savings.   

“Companies can reduce their healthcare costs as employees who take vacations regularly are less likely to suffer from health problems such as heart disease, depression and obesity,” Furiana said.   

A Culture Shift Is Required  

Employers have many opportunities to encourage employees to take time off. However, there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy. Instead, companies must determine what works best for their team.  

One thing for sure is that organizational culture works from the top down. So, if managers want employees to use their PTO, they need to do the same. It’s also helpful to differentiate between taking time off for fun and being sick, workplace experts note.  

Employees must feel safe taking a day off to go to a concert, volunteer at their child’s school or enjoy downtime after a major project. Too many people feel the only time to take time off is when they’re ill, so companies must work to alter this belief. Seeing their managers taking time off regularly for various reasons can significantly affect employees’ habits and beliefs around PTO.  

Employers can also update their policies related to PTO. Some recommendations, according to Reynolds, include rollover limits and no pay-out upon separation. Rollover limits reduce how many unused PTO days or hours an employee can carry into the following year. Refusing to pay out PTO days upon separation discourages employees from saving their PTO to receive a payout when they leave the company.  

Another option is to consider raising PTO limits overall and providing newer employees with their PTO upfront so they don’t have to work a certain period before they can take a paid day off.  

Deanna Baumgardner, president of Employers Advantage LLC, said there’s much you can do to build a safe culture around taking time off.  

“Employers need to create environments that support time off,” Baumgardner said. “Create policies and practices that set boundaries for the person on vacation and standards for their manager and co-workers on what to do when they’re out.” 

Such practices Baumgardner employs at her company includes:  

  • Instituting a a work buddy program where each employee has a co-worker who covers for them while they’re away from work.  
  • Putting the company’s messaging app on vacation mode, turning off notifications and delaying delivery of emails until the employee returns to work.  

Such actions can reduce employees’ temptation to handle work-related tasks while taking time off.   

The bottom line is that employees taking their vacation time should be a priority for companies and workers. The onus is on employers to encourage a shift in PTO habits in an effort to improve employee well-being and overall productivity.  

Editor’s Note: Additional Content 

For more information and resources related to this article see the pages below, which offer quick access to all WorldatWork content on these topics: 

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