Amid all the disruptions in work caused by the Covid pandemic, there is a new issue for employees - having paid time off (PTO) and actually being able to avail it have become two entirely different things.
A survey by software invoicing firm Skynova says about 38.5% of employers in the US have increased their PTO policy in the past year, but almost 1 in 5 employees have avoided taking time off due to feeling unsupported by their employer or having too much work.
The research also found that the average employee wants 25 days of PTO per year but only has 18 currently.
In this new study, Skynova surveyed 800 employees and 200 managers and executives located in the US about their PTO policies, plans for using them, how they feel their policies should change, and the impact on overall wellness. Respondents ranged in age from 22 to 71 with an average age of 38. Over a fifth (21.3%) were Gen Zers, a third (33.1%) were millennials, over a third (34.2%) identified as Gen Xers, and 11.4% were baby boomers. This variation played out in their responses too.
Pulse check on PTO
The vast majority (almost 90 %) of Americans have a set number of vacation days. The other 10% have a completely unlimited vacation day policy.
While full-time employees averaged 18 days off per year, this wasn’t nearly enough in their opinion. Instead, they wanted this number to increase by 56.25%, on average, totaling a desired 25 days of vacation annually, as per the Skynova survey.
The gap between desired vacation days and actual vacation days was fairly large across all generations, but it was most pronounced among millennials. This generation was only receiving 18 days off per year, while they were hoping for 27 days off.
Some studies have revealed that millennials may have a literal addiction to work, and since the pandemic, they have been impacted financially more than others.
When looking at job levels, entry-level employees received the fewest days off, while they desired the largest number among different job levels. With the least amount of leverage and the most to prove, perhaps junior workers feel unable to take vacation days, especially in such a competitive economy.
Putting PTO to work
While 70.5% of employees said that their company had mandatory PTO, an even larger percentage agreed that companies needed to actually enforce these policies.
It appeared that relatively few companies were actually enforcing the use of PTO, even if the policy was technically mandatory. Moreover, the vast majority of employees (nearly 95%) said that there were times when they specifically avoided taking time off work because they had too much work or lacked the necessary support from their team.
Mandatory PTO highly impactful when enforced
More than two-thirds of employees with a mandatory PTO policy rated their at-work happiness as good or excellent, compared to 54.5% of those without a mandatory PTO policy.
Employees with mandatory vacation days were also 10 percentage points more likely to experience good or excellent mental health, compared to those without.
On how they thought mandatory PTO policies are affecting their companies, managers anticipated an uptick in employee happiness (47.8%) and productivity (44.2%).
Another 42% also expected people to become more interested in working for the company overall.
Other perceived benefits included increased retention (38.7%) and increased time to manage (38.3%).
Managing time off
More paid time off would likely be a dream come true for employees, but the study also took response from managers on this aspect.
A vast majority of managers (76.4%) agreed that changing their company’s PTO policy would help retain more employees. This means that regardless of their existing policies (mandatory or otherwise), a change of some kind would be helpful in getting employees to stay on board during the current Great Resignation. Only 1 in 10 felt that their existing policies were sufficiently competitive.
Apart from actually increasing PTO (which 38.5% of managers had already done over the past year), managers were employing a host of other strategies to get their employees to take advantage of their time off.
For instance, 48.5% said they attempted to lead by example, presumably using their own vacation days, 46% were actively encouraging their employees to take time off, and 44.9% took steps to help normalize such behaviour in their workplace.
More than one-third even started hiring additional help to ease workloads. Roughly one-third of managers also reported discouraging vacation shaming—and as effective as those efforts may be, this still points to the regularity with which managers must be witnessing vacation shaming today.
Working out a balance
While taking time off may seem counterintuitive to a company’s productivity, employed Americans are proving that mandatory PTO and better work go hand in hand.
Those that work under enforced time off are experiencing better levels of mental health, and managers anticipate that well-rested employees will appreciate their jobs even more.
That said, very few employees were actually getting the days off that they desired, and almost everyone avoided taking time off - even when vacation was available to them - due to a lack of support.