Your Employees Aren’t Taking Time Off — Here’s Why That’s a Problem

As your company’s HR professional, you have a fine line to walk: On one side, you’re the defender of work — the company’s disciplinarian should that work consistently fall short. On the other, you’re the first line of defense for employees, enforcing each worker’s right to breaks and time off. But are employees really taking all the time off they’ve been given?

Also read: Understanding the Benefits of an Unlimited Vacation Policy

Knowing what sorts of time off benefits are important to employees can help you craft the best PTO package possible. These benefits can help you attract some much-needed talent, but that’s not all! They’re also instrumental in helping you retain the talent you have and keep current employees from burning out. The truth is, ours is a culture that thrives on hard work and discipline. But taking time away from work is healthy. So what kinds of PTO benefits do employees really want?

The general state of paid time off

According to a recent survey from QuickBooks Time, only 84 percent of the workforce has paid time off.”Of those who do have it, 32 percent say they feel pressured not to use it. On average, workers said they receive 11 days of PTO a year, but it’s common for workers to only use six of those days. In fact, 65 percent of workers said they didn’t use all of their PTO allocations last year, with nearly 1 in 5 stating their workload was the cause.

Many employers split PTO into different categories. While 11 percent said their employer just provided them with PTO and let them choose how to use it, 53 percent said they received additional paid sick leave, while 70 percent said they receive paid holidays. The next most common were paid personal days and paid bereavement, followed by maternity leave and family leave.

While different kinds of PTO might help some workers take the time off they need, in fact, 60 percent of respondents said they work while taking paid time off, meaning most workers have a hard time stepping away from the desk completely. Furthermore, 89 percent of employees say they go to work sick. In essence, they choose their work over their health and the health of others. No wonder 1 in 3 workers reported they experience an unhealthy level of stress.

A lack of trust impacts mental health

When employees don’t feel they can take the time off they need, they lie. Or at least 51 percent of them admit to lying. Most commonly, workers said they’ve misled their manager in order to rectify a lack of sleep, followed by mental health reasons and physical health reasons.

Some employees also feel the need to cover up the fact they’re spending some extra time with family or friends, or even looking after a sick relative. This kind of behavior exhibits a lack of trust between the employee and the employer, but it points to a potentially more serious problem as well: Employees don’t believe their employer values their mental health.

According to a recent Hppy blog, the cost of poor mental health in the workforce is around $225 billion a year, largely due to a decline in work performance. Author Andy Nelson wrote, “Sometimes employers do not understand or value the impact that employee wellbeing and mental health has on the organization.”

Also read: Have Vacation or Holiday Time? Use It! Taking Time Off Is Good for Your Health and Your Job

Nelson found it wasn’t just absenteeism that was costing employers billions, but something called presenteeism as well. “Most often, an employee’s productivity decreases when they are going through a stressful life event,” he wrote. “The type of event and its symptoms can determine the reasons for the loss in productivity. Research has found a strong correlation between physical illness and absenteeism, and mental illness and presenteeism.”

Is time off really what employees want?

The thing is, employers are on the right track. The benefits employees want most? Paid holidays and paid sick leave. As mentioned, these are the two benefits most commonly given in the TSheets survey. Something to consider, though, is this: While 61 percent of employees said they would turn down a job if it didn’t offer PTO, 74 percent said they would prefer to get a raise over more paid time off.

These statistics would suggest that while it’s important for companies to provide workers with an attractive PTO package at the onset, giving employees the option to increase their pay, as opposed to taking paid time off, may augment some employees’ happiness. For these employees, a more relaxed mental state may be more linked to increased finances than to time at home with friends or family.

If your company has a PTO scale — the type where a worker earns a week of paid time off in their first year, two weeks in their second and third years, and up and up — consider offering an alternative scale with a cash bonus instead. Or let workers customize their PTO package. It’s possible they’ll want all the paid sick time your company offers, but instead of paid vacation days, would prefer to work and earn a small bonus. Be aware that while there are no federal laws requiring employers to give holiday pay, some states have wage and hour laws that do mandate such benefits. You’ll want to review your state’s labor laws prior to enacting any new PTO policies.

Be the first line of defense to protect PTO

The flip side of this coin is some employees do want to take paid time off; they simply struggle to take it for a variety of reasons. Nine percent of respondents said they didn’t take all their PTO last year because their manager wouldn’t approve it. Eleven percent said they didn’t take it because they wanted a promotion (perhaps fearing that if they did take it, their absence would be construed as a lack of drive). Four percent said they were pressured not to take it, while 7 percent said their companies have a culture where taking time off is frowned upon.

As an HR professional, it’s your job to defend each worker’s right to their time off. Educate managers on the benefits of PTO — benefits like reduced stress and decreased risk of burnout — so they feel confident empowering their employees to take time off. Keep an ear to the ground, so you know when an unhealthy culture that prevents workers from taking time away surfaces. Your company — and your people — will thank you.

Download the eBook and find out what makes people happy to go to work every day and give their best, with real answers from employees across the world.

Image via