In today’s world, work-life balance is becoming increasingly important for always-connected employees. Research on workplace flexibility revealed that more than half of employees say better work-life balance and personal well-being are very important to them when considering if they should leave their company for another organization. Similarly, Project: Time Off’s State of the American Vacation 2017 report showed nearly every American employee (96 percent) says using their PTO is important. Given these findings, it’s clear that employees crave work-life balance. Yet, despite this overwhelming sentiment, only about half (54 percent) of American employees took all their vacation time last year.
If PTO is so highly valued, why isn’t it being used?
Although organizational leaders see the value of employee PTO, it seems this message is not being effectively communicated . Project: Time Off reported “two-thirds (66 percent) of employees feel that their company culture is ambivalent, discouraging, or sends mixed messages about time off.” In a different study, almost half of employee respondents (47 percent) indicated feeling they could not use PTO without having to justify taking it and, similarly, 47 percent reported experiencing shame for taking their vacation time.
Negative perceptions about taking time off come from all levels of the organization, including supervisors and colleagues. Workers worry that no one else can do their job, that they will return to an overloaded inbox, will be perceived as replaceable, less dedicated, or will miss out on job opportunities.
Who is not using their PTO?
Millennials as a group are most likely to experience shame and guilt for taking time off, and are particularly susceptible to leaving PTO time unused. Economic strain and a desire to combat negative stereotypes may explain why this generational group forgoes vacation days and strives to be seen as “work martyrs” much more than other generations.
Women are more likely than men to report experiencing stress at work and home and although they rate PTO as “extremely important,” at higher rates than men, they are less likely to use all of their vacations . They experience more guilt and worries about workload and perceptions of commitment. These hindrances are compounded for millennial women.
Finally, although senior leaders often have a greater number of PTO days, they struggle more than non-managers to take time away from work. Their concerns focus around having too much work and no one to cover their role in their absence
How can employees be encouraged to use their PTO?
There is a large disconnect between what organizational leaders believe and what their actions and messaging support. The value of employee PTO needs to be communicated and celebrated within organizational culture. Some tips for achieving this:
- Practice what you preach. Organizational leaders should role model by using their own PTO. Share strategies about how and why taking time was possible, and talk about positive experiences during the time off and on return.
- Encourage employees to plan their time off in advance. Those who plan are more likely to use all their time. This also helps for scheduling.
- Develop project timelines with PTO in mind. Taking stock of who has upcoming time off will allow for strategic planning to ensure work will be covered and team members have clear expectations for supporting each other.
- Establish who will provide what types of coverage and instruct employees to include that contact info in out-of-office messaging.
- Discourage employees from working while off. Recommend they disconnect from work technology.
- Expect that workers will need time on return to catch up with emails and workload.
- Reward quality of work over quantity.
The arrival of the new year provides the perfect opportunity to encourage employees to take their unused PTO. Reducing pressure to work constantly and increasing social connections will help employees feel recharged for a fresh start .
This article was first featured on HR Technologist.