Posts Tagged ‘PTO’

In the wake of the new changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act, many employers and HR professionals may take comfort in the fact that the federal regulations on employee paid time off have not changed. In fact, those regulations will continue to not exist. America is one of the few developed nations that does not have a federally mandated vacation policy.  According to the 2016 Employee Benefits report by the Society for Human Resource Management, 97% of US companies still choose to offer some form of paid leave. Whether it’s a traditional vacation policy that accounts for vacation, sick leave, and personal time separately, an all-inclusive paid time off (PTO) policy that combines various uses of time into one pool, or new (and fairly uncommon) unlimited PTO policies; American workers are being given a hall pass to leave our desks. 

The American workforce however appears conflicted over the idea of not working. On the one hand we expect vacation time from our employers and scrutinize vacation and paid time off benefits when considering job opportunities. Then, on the other hand, we horde our accrued vacation time and stay affixed to our desks year in, year out. American workers are among the worst employees in the world at taking vacation time. Several studies have indicated that more than half of American workers do not use all of their vacation time each year. Other studies suggest that of those workers who did take a vacation about half of them continued to work while on vacation.

The benefits of un-plugging and getting out of the office have been covered in countless studies on workforce engagement, productivity, retention, employee health, and general job satisfaction. The drawbacks of employees’ not taking time away from work have also been extensively covered and include fatigue, burnout, turnover, transmission of illness, and reduced productivity.

So why aren’t people punching out? Reported explanations for not taking vacation include increased work load, fear for job security, and financial concerns. In this post-recession era we find many employees may have changed jobs at least once, changed industries, have less tenure than they expected at this point in their career, or are still picking up the slack generated by a do-more-with-less survival downsizing that took place. All of these issues threaten the use of vacation time as employees fear a backlog of work, believe they are the only one who can fill their role, or want to show commitment and determination to their supervisors.

Fortunately, technology and connectivity have made getting away from our desk possible. Many companies encourage the use of flexible schedules and work spaces to help employees maintain a comfortable work/life balance. It’s no longer only small business start-ups that have employees working from coffee shops and home offices. The downside however, is that getting away from our work is becoming increasingly difficult. The message has become “Go home, but keep working”. One study suggests that more than half of employees in the U.S. do not have an open dialogue with their supervisors regarding the use of vacation time and truly disconnecting from work.

Thoughtful administration and effective communication of current paid leave policies may get us closer to a well-rested, healthy, vacationed workforce.  But it may also be time to revisit the policies themselves to ensure you have the right paid leave structure for your organization. If PTO plans aren’t being used correctly for instances of illness (ie. paid-time-off being horded for vacation instead of used for sick leave) perhaps a traditional vacation and sick leave policy will encourage the use of time off when needed. Other possible policy changes may include mandatory time off, reduced roll-over accrual for unused time off, or reduced payouts for unused time off.

The overwhelming trend is that Americans are not taking enough time away from their jobs for equally important matters of rest, relaxation, healing, and wellbeing. Disconnecting from our work lives takes intentionality and commitment on behalf of the employee as well as the support and encouragement of the employers.  Management must encourage, if not enforce, well designed time off policies.

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