Encourage Employees to Use Their PTO

It’s  Good for Them – and Good for Your Organization

Paid Time Off policies are designed to provide employees time away from work to recharge, take care of their own well-being, and support loved ones during times of need, yet so often employees do not use all their earned time. According to a Pew Research Center 2023 survey, 52% of employees in the United States don’t use all of their vacation time each year. Sadly, this marks a 100% increase from the  28% of employees who did not use all of their PTO time in 2019.

Employees provide a range of explanations for not taking their earned time off:

  • apprehension that their work will not get done or not done well while they are on vacation;
  • concerns about placing a burden on other members of the team;
  • dread of the backlog of work waiting for them upon return;
  • even the realization they have nothing to do if not at work;
  • fear of being discounted by management if they take time off; and
  • worry their absence would render them susceptible for layoff.

Such employees might feel they can’t financially afford to take a vacation, not realizing that a vacation day can be used to simply sit on their patio or balcony and read the book that has been collecting dust on the bedside table – or tackle home to-do lists.

Leaders need to encourage employees to not only use their time off, but actually stop working when they are using time off. According to a 2023 ELVTR Magazine survey, employees reported that they did not feel they could escape work, as they received frequent work contacts from their managers and co-workers during vacation, as follows:

  • 28% received work emails from their boss and co-workers
  • 25% felt pressure to check work-related texts
  • 6% received work-related voicemails and 2% received work-related social media pings

Interestingly, employees seemed to have trouble maintaining their own boundaries during vacation, as 82% percent acknowledged that they were not directed by their supervisor to check email during vacation, but a stunning 68% admitted to doing work on vacation and 57% acknowledged feeling anxious if they did not check emails during vacation.
Leaders have a responsibility to create a positive workplace culture and encourage employees to take a break from work. Like so many employment-related issues, supervisors need to lead by example. Organizational leaders need to use their own paid time off, disengage, and actively encourage employees to do the same. Supervisors should be aware of their direct reports’ current paid time off balances and proactively talk to their employees about paid time off policies. Make sure every employee is aware of how vacation time is earned, how they can schedule time off, and what, if any, amount can be carried over into the next year.

When an employee takes time off, supervisors must ensure the workload is manageable, so they can take time off without guilt. Leaders should work with direct reports to delegate work, cross train others, provide status updates, and plan in advance for true breaks from work. Consistent with this approach, those leaders should not disrupt employees who are on vacation. Establish a culture in which taking time off is not only permissible but encouraged. Remind employees that paid time can be taken in small or large increments, with a great Friday off at home serving as much good as a week out of town.

Why does this matter? Employees need to separate from work to establish a balance in their lives. Do we work to live or live to work? Neither. We live, and we work. It need not be a battle between the two. The summer season is upon us. This is the perfect time to remember that everyone needs to step away and recharge their batteries. What that looks like for each employee will vary; the key is to encourage it.

Lake Effect is here to be thought leaders and trusted advisors on all facets of HR and employment law for organizations across Wisconsin and beyond. We continue to monitor important legal and HR developments, as well as other information that could impact the workplace. Please watch our blogs and emails for these important updates, as well as discussions of how compliance meets culture. To dive into these issues, contact us at info@le-hrlaw.com or 1-844-333-5253.

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