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PTO outlook: Here’s how employees really feel

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When you’re creating a benefits package to attract and retain the best talent, Paid Time Off (PTO) is a big piece of the puzzle. Whether you offer unlimited PTO or a set number of days, finding the right balance that works for your organization and your employees is crucial. 

The focus in recent years on preventing burnout and finding work-life harmony has put the spotlight on time off, and shown that even when companies offer generous time off policies, it’s not always fully utilized by employees. 

A recent CalendarLabs survey uncovered how employees feel about PTO to help you create a policy that works for your people.

PTO trends employees love – and ones they don’t 

CalendarLabs surveyed over 800 employees from the U.S. and U.K. and 200 employers. 

The survey found that unlimited PTO policies – where employers don’t cap the number of PTO days an employee can take, as opposed to a set number of days within a calendar year – may seem great on paper, but employees aren’t buying it. Nearly half of employees surveyed (43%) reported that they see unlimited PTO as a “scam.” 

Negative sentiments about unlimited time off aren’t uncommon. Although the prospect of “unlimited” time off can seem like a great idea, it can actually lead to employees taking less time off, according to a 2018 study from Namely. 

Plus, CalendarLabs‘ research also found that employees with unlimited PTO were more likely to be concerned about job security when taking time off than those with set PTO.

But that doesn’t mean that those with set days are completely content, either. Over a third of U.S. respondents (38%) did not use all of their allotted vacation time – compared to 28% of U.K. respondents – resulting in many having to forfeit their remaining PTO days.

The survey also found discrepancies in how many days certain employees would take, based on factors like:  

  • Company size: Employees at micro-sized companies – between one and nine employees – averaged 11 PTO days, while employees at companies with 250 or more employees took 17 days, and
  • Country: Employees in the U.K. reported taking twice the amount of time off than U.S. employees, at 24 and 12 days respectively.

Striking the right balance

It’s clear that when done wrong, PTO policies can end up doing more harm than good. But how can you ensure your policy works for the whole organization? 

Although the right policy will come down to the specific needs of your workforce, here are some tips to make sure your policy is being used effectively:

  • Encourage time off for more than just vacation: To prevent burnout, it’s essential to promote employee wellness – and that includes taking mental health days just like taking a sick day for a physical illness. In fact, almost three in five employers reported actively dismantling stigmas around taking PTO for mental well-being, according to the study.
  • Support workers who take on additional work: When workers take time off, their colleagues are often left to take on additional work, and over half of employees (65%) believe they should receive additional compensation for that, per CalendarLabs’ study. Whether you offer a monetary bonus or some other form of support, it’s important to remember those who are stepping up when others are on PTO.
  • Normalize truly unplugging: Nearly four in five employees (78%) harbored feelings of guilt when taking time off, leading 66% to put in extra hours before their time off and 69% to continue responding to notifications when away. For PTO to be a time for true rest and recovery, it’s important to fully unplug from work. To encourage this, ensure managers are modeling ideal time off practices so team members don’t feel pressured to continue working during their time off. 

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