No One is Taking PTO. Now What?

Time to read: 2 minutes 14 seconds

Summary: Examine what you can do to prevent a large end-of-year PTO scramble in 2020. Start the conversation now. Encourage employees to take time off, look at your existing policy and think outside the box to help your company’s bottom line.

Paid time off (PTO) is a critical component of any benefit package, helping companies stay competitive. But PTO policies vary widely, and organizations have different rules for earning time or whether it rolls over from year to year. Every company must find its own way to balance this important benefit.

Between the pandemic and the recession, many employees cancelled planned vacations in 2020. This means you may have more employees than usual with large amounts of PTO who may want to take time off during the same weeks around holidays. What can you do now to prevent this from becoming a much larger issue at the end of the year?

1. Encourage employees to take time now even if they cannot travel.

Good mental health helps employees stay productive, so PTO can help reduce stress and the potential for burnout. This knowledge may not be new, but reminders may help prompt new PTO requests.

If you have not already done so, start the conversation. Emphasize the importance of time off to unplug and recharge. If duration is a concern, suggest more frequent long weekends instead of full weeks off. Shorter timeframes may seem less daunting.

Another way to encourage using PTO is to prove your commitment by taking time off yourself. Employees will see your behavior and trust in what you have said.

2. Reexamine your PTO policy.

Unprecedented situations offer great opportunities to review existing policies and make needed adjustments. PTO policies need to make sense for your company as well as your employees. Questions you may want to ask yourself include:

  • Do you allow any PTO roll-over and/or PTO buy-out, and can your budget accommodate it?

  • Do you give schedule priority to senior members of the team, essential workers or others? Can this be relaxed – or should it be tightened?

  • Do you allow employees to donate PTO to each other in times of need? In certain industries, essential employees might be using PTO at a lightning speed while others have plenty of extra days.

  • If your company sees business get heavier at the end of the year, look at creating PTO-blackout dates to keep things running.

Regardless of what changes you do or do not make, be transparent with your employees. Remind them of your policy and explain expectations through year-end to allow employees to plan.

3. Think outside the box.

According to Psychology Today, unused vacation time cost U.S. businesses $224 million in 2017– and that was a year without a pandemic or a recession. If employees remain skittish about scheduling time off, what else can you do?

Try turning toward rewards and recognition. Does your company have an employee or peer-to-peer recognition program? If you do, consider using it. If not, start by showing appreciation for your team’s hard work and dedication.

  • Make thank-you announcements in upcoming virtual meetings or in emails.

  • Host virtual happy hours and birthday celebrations to boost company morale.

  • Consider sending gift cards or meals to employees’ families.

  • Donate to charities that they choose.

  • Plan staycation or wellness challenges.

Take steps now to prevent a potentially precarious situation in a few months. Be proactive and remind employees of your PTO policy. Encourage them to submit requests now. PTO will not only help your business’s bottom line, it will prepare your team for new projects and a stronger 2021.

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