Don’t Just Talk About PTO Benefits: Encourage Your Employees to Actually ‘Get Up and Go’

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There’s no question that the advantages of paid time off (PTO) are recognized on a global level. In fact, recent statistics show that 91 percent of senior business leaders agree that time off from work can deliver countless benefits to employees, according to Project: Time Off. 

However, despite this widespread agreement, PTO sadly remains underused in the U.S. 

Approximately 41 percent of American workers said they were not planning to use all of their paid time off in 2014, even though it was part of their compensation packages, according to Project: Time Off.

Why is this the case? Many workers tend to create their own biggest barriers to taking time off. Employees often cite the feeling that nobody else can do their job and the fear of returning to a heaping mountain of work as top reasons for not using PTO. 

However, when employees do not use their PTO, studies show this can affect their happiness, health, stress levels, performance,  and productivity — all of which can undermine a company’s overall success. 

Unfortunately, the U.S. has remained deeply trapped in a culture that often glorifies overwork and treats time off as a “perk” to be used by those who aren’t really committed to their careers. Because of this notion, some workers are burning out much too soon. 

How can we turn the issue around?

Company leaders in the U.S. need to clearly understand that PTO has a certain domino effect: by treating employees with respect and giving them more control over their PTO, organizations can cultivate happier, more productive workforces. 

It’s crucial that more senior business leaders and human resource managers realize that time away from the office is a critical tool for sustaining employee productivity. 

Happy employees are more likely to stay in their jobs, helping employers keep talent in place and turnover costs down. A Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) study found that 75 percent of HR professionals report that employees who take most or all of their vacation time perform better than those who take less vacation time. 

SHRM also found that a strong majority — nearly 78 percent — of HR directors reported that employees who took advantage of available vacation time enjoyed higher levels of job satisfaction.

Here are some more interesting findings: the consulting firm Ernst & Young discovered that for every 10 hours of vacation time one of its employees took, their year-end performance rating saw an eight percent boost; the company also experienced less turnover when workers took more vacation time. Former NASA scientists had a similar experience: employees who took vacations saw an 82 percent increase in job performance when they returned. Finally, longer vacations had even more of an impact: a study of Dutch workers found taking a vacation can increase a worker’s creativity by boosting their cognitive flexibility upon their return to the office.

Thankfully, some business leaders across the country are taking steps to cultivate company cultures that actually support the taking of leave. For example, “Use It or Lose It” policies are now in place for more than 25 percent of U.S. employers. Additionally, incentive-based programs are slowly on the rise, with more and more employers offering employees stipends and bonuses for using their vacation time.

One trend that has captured recent headlines is the implementation of “unlimited vacation” policies, with celebrity businessmen like Richard Branson adopting the such programs after hearing that they boost morale, creativity, and productivity. This approach can empower employees to make their own decisions about PTO without worrying about accruing days or asking permission. Unlimited vacation policies can also set the tone organization-wide that vacation is important and encouraged. And, finally, these policies can drive innovation: an estimated 60–80 percent of startups in the San Francisco Bay Area offer unlimited PTO, as do high-profile tech companies like Netflix, Twitter, Glassdoor, Eventbrite, and Hubspot. 

When it comes to hiring — and keeping — skilled employees, keeping these factors in mind when establishing your company’s PTO policy can make all the difference in the world. 

Regular communication is essential to encourage employees to use more of their vacation time. Research from Project: Time Off found that 80 percent of workers said they would use more of their PTO if their bosses encouraged them to do so. 

Here are a few additional ways can you encourage your employees to use their PTO:

1. Be Happy to Help: You need to encourage staff members to use their PTO. Make sure your message is clear. When some of your employees are using time off, share that information with the rest of the team and encourage them to do so as well. As a result, other team members will see that using time off is acceptable, and they will feel they can use theirs, too, without being penalized.

2. Limit Rollover: You can put limits on PTO rollover to encourage your people to take their time off. What if you don’t allow unused days to roll over until an employee has used a certain amount of days? Even if someone doesn’t have a trip to take, they might want to take a much-needed break from work to organize the basement, build that deck they’ve been meaning to, or simply rest.

3. Be Organized: Make sure you’re tracking who will be out of the office and when, so that you’ll be able to ensure that certain day-to-day tasks are accomplished during their absence.

4. Find a Way to Make It Work: We all know how hard it can be when a team member is gone — but it’s a good opportunity to have the entire team help out. While it may take some organization, foresight, and advanced planning, you’ll be glad you let your employee take some well-deserved time off.

The bottom line: encouraging employees to take their earned PTO is important for both their success and your company’s overall success. Your responsibilities as a leader or HR manager should include letting your team members take the time off they deserve. 

Yes, it might be a bit challenging in the moment when you’re down a staff member or two, but the long-term rewards will more than make up for it.

By Cheryl Rosner