HRA Blog

PTO Policies for Wanderlust Employees

Written by Mary Lake on .

My last blog addressed the trend of employees failing to utilize vacation time and what employers could do to encourage them to take their well-deserved time off. Since the blog’s publication I have been personally exposed to some additional generational and cultural trends concerning paid time off.

In November, my son announced that he was taking a three-week vacation to a part of the world with little Internet and email capabilities. Although, I was aghast at the idea of taking three consecutive weeks off from work, he had absolutely no concern. He had the accrued PTO and was well prepared to have his workload covered by his colleagues during his absence. This made me recall an article by Nicole Fallon “Unlimited Time Off Comes With A Price” that addressed the new idea of “unlimited vacation” and I began to wonder how PTO trends were changing and at what cost to employers.

I decided to explore differences in the generational trends in utilizing PTO and came to understand a few important facts. First, the Millennial generation travels more and for longer periods of time than the Boomer and X generations that preceded them. According to MMGY Global, a U.S. based travel marketing agency, their research indicates that “travelers between the ages of 14 and 34 will lead the continued travel recovery.” Simply put, Millennials are taking longer vacations and seeking greater flexibility for them from their employers.

The second fact that surfaced, was that while some of the giants in the corporate world (Virgin, Netflix, Zynga, etc.) are instituting unlimited vacation policies, the practice remains uncommon. SHRM and other organizations peg the number of corporations that offer this benefit from one to three percent. Also, some look upon this policy as bad for employees. The concern is two fold. First, many feel that less dedicated employees will take advantage of the policy and take excessive time off during peak times for the organization, costing the organization time and resources. Conversely, there is concern that when dedicated employees are no longer in danger of losing accrued vacation time they won’t take the time off that they need.

Finally, the world is becoming more globalized and organizations aren’t being hampered by geography when hiring the best talent for positions. For many of these employees whose families still live in foreign countries, vacations home often require a minimum of two travel days. These employees are seeking longer periods of time off to visit their families who they don’t have the ability to see 11 months out of the year.

So with these trends, what’s the balance? What can organizations do to accommodate employees taking longer and more frequent holidays while ensuring profitability and resource utilization?

The following are some ideas to help you develop a PTO policy that will ensure a good “work-life” balance for employees that allows for extended holiday time as well as provides the coverage that the organization will need in order to continue to grow and prosper.

  • Consult with management and employees alike. Find out what employees would like to see in the way of PTO. Do they look forward to an extended vacation or shorter vacations? Get management on-board with understanding the benefit to productivity that occurs when an employee has had sufficient time to decompress over an extended vacation. It may also be helpful when developing a new policy to benchmark it against external industry factors such as Mercer’s benefits studies.
  • Plan how to move the organization forward to a policy that meets the needs of the current staff. Begin by categorizing crucial work areas that must be covered while an employee is on an extended vacation. Develop tools that will help employees and managers alike identify crucial work and individuals to that can “cover” that work while an employee is on an extended vacation. Importantly, identify any work that can be done in advance by the employee prior to the employee leaving.
  • Support employees in their efforts to take longer vacation times. Help them realize that the organization understands their needs and supports them in fulfilling those needs. Transparency is key to letting all employees know that the organization is behind them. Also, supporting these decisions can go a long way towards supporting employee retention.

It is evident that trends in vacation time are changing as we move more solidly into the twenty-first century. It is important that employers are aware of the changing trends and are fluid and flexible enough when developing or modifying their PTO policies. In fact, when was the last time you took an extended vacation? After seeing my son’s pictures from Cambodia of Angkor Wat, I’m starting to think about one myself.