The Paid Time Off Pickle

4 min. read

Employees want time off, but many of them aren't using it even though they want to

According to a recent survey from Pew Research, most U.S. workers place a high priority on having paid time off (PTO). When surveyed, 62% of employees said it is extremely important for them to be paid for time to take vacations, routine doctor’s visits, or to deal with minor illnesses and day-to-day emergencies. In fact, more employees said having paid time off is "extremely important" than said the same about having employer-sponsored health insurance or a retirement program.

But another result from the survey was surprising: 52% of employees reported that they do not take all of the time off that they are offered. The most challenging finding is that most of these employees want to use the time off, but they do not for the following reasons:

  • Nearly half (49%) worry they might fall behind at work if they took more time off.
  • Almost as many (43%) say they feel badly about their co-workers taking on additional work.
  • A smaller set has concerns that taking more time off might hurt their chances for job advancement (19%), or that they might risk losing their job (16%), or say their manager or supervisor discourages them from taking time off (12%).

This decision to skip time off leads to high work stress, negative impacts on teams, and possible burnout. One survey indicates high work stress costs companies on average 34% of the affected employees' salary due to turnover and reduced productivity. In other words, employers lose $3,400 for every $10,000 in salary from the effects of stress and burnout. Harvard Business Journal reports burnout costs U.S. employers somewhere around $150 billion a year. It could be even more severe, according to Eric Garten at Harvard Business, who says "The true cost to business can be far greater, thanks to low productivity across organizations, high turnover, and the loss of the most capable talent."

The Pew Research findings are also troubling because they mean employees are depriving themselves of independence and they are not meeting their basic needs. Employees believe that they have no choice but to skip their time off. Even though they may be worrying unnecessarily, their fears are real, reasonable, and can only be corrected by their workplace and its leaders. To correct this, workplace leaders have to know why.

So why do employees choose not to use the time off that they need? The causes in play vary from one workplace to another, as reflected in the Pew statistics. It is important for individual workplaces to find out why, by surveying employees and reviewing policies and practices.

Most survey providers do not provide findings on paid time off, or even address employee feelings on their work life balance. Here at Amazing Workplace, we already knew that employees need to have good paid time off and feel safe to use it. Our surveys are built to reflect the full array of feelings and experiences that create workplace happiness (or unhappiness). That's why our survey provides a detailed results that include:

  • Whether employees feel like they are able to meet the needs of their personal lives.
  • Whether employees have a good understanding of workplace policies.
  • Whether employees feel like they are heard or acknowledged.
  • Whether employees have enough paid time off.
  • Whether employees feel safe to use time off.

Each of these factors can indicate different ways to communicate to employees, clarify policies, adjust allowances, or make the workplace feel more safe. You can take the first step and bring the Smart Survey to your workplace for free, or talk to our team about getting our full Smart Survey and Magic Insights to start your workplace happiness journey.