In the wake of COVID-19, navigating a new “normal,” and coping with the ripple effect both have had on the general mental health across the globe, now is a great time to encourage employees to use paid time off (PTO). There are many benefits to not only providing, but also encouraging employees to utilize PTO, including increased engagement and productivity, boost employee morale and retention, and improve overall employee health.
Refreshed. According to a 2013 study, 75% of HR professionals witnessed improved employee performance from employees who utilized more vacation days than those who used fewer. Additionally, 78% of HR directors reported employees who used vacation days experienced higher job satisfaction.
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Stronger. In urging employees to utilize PTO, teams may better evaluate each member’s role and strengthen team building between coworkers. Teams can learn to navigate the ebbs and flows in the absence of a member and develop stronger processes.
Time away from the office can stimulate employee innovation. Distinguished business innovators like Bill Gates, Kevin Systrom (Instagram), and Drew Houston (Dropbox) used their time off to come up with their trending platforms.
Overall Health. Did you know that lack of relaxation periods, neural functions that control calm and peacefulness weaken resulting in an inability to destress. Additionally, not investing in general health can lead to weakened immune systems due to exhaustion, malnutrition, and other illnesses and health conditions. These health concerns can lead to increased absences and more serious health issues like heart disease and depression.
Savings. Not only do unused vacation days impact employee health, it also can be funds wasted. For example, companies who do not rollover at year-end or pay out benefits upon separation causes employees to lose out on paid time off. Additionally, U.S. employees lose nearly $52 billion in group health benefits annually.
While paying employees for time off they did not take affects your bottom line, unused paid time off can also negatively impact employers’ budgets. Billions of dollars in unused vacation time can be a liability for business balance sheets.
Tips to Encourage Employees to Use PTO
Oftentimes, unused PTO results from fear, guilt, and workplace pressures, such as:
- Fear that the workload is overwhelming, no one else can do the work, and will fall behind
- Fear being laid off and bank PTO to cash out should job security change
- Fear of being perceived as less dedicated or replaceable
- Feeling guilty using PTO as they don’t want to burden their team
- Feeling as if company doesn’t want them to use PTO
- Feeling the expectation to be responsive during PTO (i.e., check and reply to messages, attend meetings, answer and check phone messages)
The best way to encourage employees to utilize PTO is to incorporate well-being in your company culture. To effectively integrate well-being into the core of your culture, employers should:
Practice clear and concise communication.
Just under half (39%) of managers reported their organization encouraging employees to use PTO once a year or less or not at all. One way to promote well-being through PTO utilization is breaking the silence. Silence oftentimes leaves employees anxious and filling in the blanks. A 2018 study showed that 78% of managers believe PTO improves employees’ productivity and 81% believe it reduces burnout. With that being said, ensuring employees understand company policies regarding PTO, such as proper request processes, available channels to communicate concerns, questions, or complaints, and deterring unacceptable behavior (i.e., vacation shaming) through no-tolerance policy enforcement.
Incorporating reminders into leadership discussions, employee-facing communications, and other forms of company-wide communications can ensure consistent communication regarding PTO use is being implemented across all levels of your organization.
Develop and enforce policies.
Developing PTO policies that comply with local, state, and federal regulations is integral to effectuating employee well-being and overall cultural changes in the workplace. One way to encourage employees to use PTO is to incorporate a set deadline for using PTO. For example, stating that December 31 of the respective year is the last day to utilize PTO. Limiting rollover PTO is also a great way to encourage employees to use it throughout the year. As stated above, losing accrued PTO can be detrimental to both employer and employees. Setting a definitive deadline and limiting rollover can certainly encourage employees to use PTO.
Another policy to consider is a no tolerance for inappropriate behavior, such as vacation shaming. Though a majority (67%) of employees report hearing nothing, mixed messages, or negative messages regarding use of PTO, oftentimes employees are quick to speculate and tend to lean towards negative behavioral responses, such as vacation shaming.
Leaders should encourage PTO and deter inappropriate behaviors by enforcing policies outlining proper warnings and consequences for such conduct.
Lead by example.
Leading by example can also deter such conduct. Company culture is typically constructed from the top down, so managers should lead the work-life balance they desire for their employees. If a leader takes PTO, but still responds to emails might be portraying the expectation for employees to do the same when they opt to use PTO. If leaders do not value time outside of the office, why would an employee feel comfortable taking time off?
Find creative ways to motivate employees.
There are creative ways to motivate employees to take PTO. Look at other companies to explore unique ways to promote PTO. For example, Crisis Text Line offers fairly standard paid time off, but also provides employees the opportunity to take a sabbatical after two years of employment.
Another example is Webflow, who provides paid time off, plus birthdays, a company retreat (“working vacation”), $1,000 bonus for first vacation that is five-plus days long, four hours a week for passion projects that help company, as well as wellness, commuter, office, and education coverages.
If you’re looking to boost your suite of benefits, or need to revamp your employee handbook, VensureHR’s team of HR specialists can provide industry best practices, tools and resources, and support for you every step of the way. Our employee benefits and HR services can be tailored to your business and employee needs. Contact us today to learn more.
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,  Society for Human Resource Management
 Project: Time Off
 Society for Human Resource Management