According to the U.S. Travel Association, more than half of American workers had unused PTO time in 2018. The same study found that unused PTO added up to over 768 million vacation days that year.
Some workers are afraid to use PTO. HR may not be aware of the unwritten expectations in various departments. Managers and peers might feel overworked when anyone takes vacation. Even when they need a break, social pressure may demand an excuse like a medical reason for absence.
Unused PTO isn’t even beneficial for companies since employee burnout lowers productivity and increases turnover. Encouraging employees to use PTO can protect their mental health and reduce the misuse of sick days for unapproved vacations.
How using PTO helps the company
Many of us take employee benefits for granted, but how does Paid Time Off serve the company’s best interest? Why should a company pay employees not to work?
Employees who get vacations and family time have a better work-life balance. Workers who make a habit of skipping vacations will expect raises and other rewards. When the Christmas bonus doesn’t justify all the missed little league games, hard working parents may look for a less demanding workplace.
Everybody has experienced flagging productivity after burnout or insufficient sleep. Employees need breaks periodically to refresh and stay motivated. One study found that performance reviews improved by 8 percent for every 10 hours of vacation time an employee took. A continuous grind makes it harder for workers to think creatively in problem solving. Once in a blue moon, a vacation may help a team leader take a step back and find new ways to improve efficiency.
Many workers are unsure whether they’ll be judged for using all their PTO. Some colleagues don’t want the extra work of covering for someone else’s absence. Others worry that taking a vacation might be held against them during the employee review process. Unused PTO creates unnecessary resentment and tension in the company culture.
If your company compensates workers for unused PTO, then you’re paying more than their full salary for the year. Even if your state allows PTO to disappear with “use it or lose it” policies, there can still be long term costs in turnover and declining employee health. The accumulated stress and frustration can drag down the company’s overall morale.
Tips for encouraging employee to use PTO
There’s a difference between “giving” employees PTO and making sure they feel free to use it. A little encouragement can help reduce the amount of unused PTO.
Discuss the benefits of taking a vacation from work
Talk to staff about the positive benefits of shorter and longer breaks. Talk about work-life balance in the workplace, making that value a higher priority in your company culture. Use Employee engagement surveys to track personal motivation levels and burnout.
Communicate PTO and time off policies clearly
Clear PTO policies are must-haves for your employee handbook. Make it easy for workers to request time off, and make sure that supervisors try to accommodate reasonable requests.
Set a reasonable but firm deadline for PTO requests
Your business needs to maintain productivity, and so managers need enough time to cover gaps. A firm deadline in the handbook will make it easier to be consistent.
Discourage vacation shaming
Make sure that managers and team leads discuss PTO with a positive spin. HR can send out reminders to workers who have accrued a certain amount of PTO.
Offer some, but limit vacation rollover
A limited amount of rollover can encourage those hard workers to take advantage of their surplus. Employees with dependents may save up their PTO because they see it as a way to make sure Family Medical Leave doesn’t hurt their paycheck.
Allow employees to fully unplug
People on vacation shouldn’t be treated like on-call remote workers. Try to have all necessary answers and resources set aside in advance. Cross-train workers to prepare for a colleague’s vacation, then it’s a great opportunity to make your system more resilient.
Managers and HR lead by example
Ambitious workers may worry that taking PTO will hurt their chances at future promotions, so you need to be clear that everyone is encouraged to use time off. Managers and team leaders can model appropriate behavior in giving their team a heads-up and making sure important tasks are covered.