Pointless PTO? Is The U.S. The No Vacation Nation?


The “Great Resignation,” a term referring to the mass exodus of entry to mid-level employees from their jobs, shined a bright light on why so many people left their jobs. The chief reasons are worker burnout and no paid time off (PTO), whether for sick days, parental leave, or simply vacation time to rest and recharge.

Is PTO pointless? Can less time on the job actually improve worker productivity? We’re looking at ways that HR Departments can encourage people to take the time off they’ve earned.

Lack of Federally Mandated Paid Time Off

The Center for Economic and Policy Research dubbed the U.S. the “no vacation nation,” comparing the amount of paid time off Americans get to those of their global counterparts. In fact, U.S. workers have significantly fewer guaranteed paid time off days than other countries. America is the only advanced economy whose federal government does not mandate paid vacation days, sick leave, or holidays.

To put things into perspective, 21 of the world’s wealthiest countries legally guarantee paid statutory/vacation time to their employees, and the U.S. is not one of them. These countries include Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, which offer anywhere from 20 to 30 paid statutory holiday/vacation days per year. The remaining seventeen wealthy countries provide paid statutory holidays to supplement the paid vacation days required for their workers.

Over a quarter of Americans do not receive any form of paid vacation or paid statutory holidays, which is most common for lower-wage, part-time, or small business employees. And unfortunately, it’s lower-class Americans that feel the effects of the lack of PTO policies the most.

Furthermore, there is no universal, paid family medical leave program in the U.S. Without support from the federal government, companies are largely allowed to create their own policies regarding paid leave or choose not to.

Why Aren’t Employees Using Their PTO?

Even in organizations that do offer PTO, it’s not unusual for employees to not take leave. Sometimes, the workload is too much, and taking time off simply means busier days and more frustration. Other times, there’s a company culture of being fully committed to work, and taking days off may be deemed lazy. In a 2018 study, it was concluded that, on average, Americans leave four vacation days uncollected.

Untitled 2However, the benefits of vacation and paid time off are numerous. Rest and relaxation can help decrease stress levels, and a better work-life balance can make employees more productive when at work.

Furthermore, adequate paid sick time can help reduce instances of people in the office getting ill or employees coming in to work sick and being underproductive.

Lack of a work-life balance is one of the driving reasons that employees quit their jobs. It’s cheaper for companies to retain good employees than it is for them to hire and onboard new ones constantly. Offering more paid time off – and making it easier for employees to use their benefits – can help reduce costly turnover.

How Can Companies Encourage More Time Off?

The company culture is the biggest indicator of whether employees feel comfortable taking their accrued vacation time. There are six ways that managers and HR departments can set the tone.

Lead by Example

Managers set the tone for taking time off. When managers take vacation time, they should visibly disconnect from the office, delegate responsibilities, and only be available in true emergencies. Managers that constantly “check-in” while on vacation lead others to feel obligated to do the same.

Limit Rollover

Untitled 3If you have a rollover vacation day policy, we suggest you instead enforce a “use it or lose it” policy, which will ensure your employees take time off each year to prevent burnout.

Make Planning Time Off Normalized

As part of company orientation, include how PTO accrues and how to handle time off or sick requests. Create company policies for delegating your work responsibilities to the rest of your team while on vacation, and add vacation planning to department meetings. Encourage your team to use their PTO and set the tone that doing so is a normal part of business.

Encourage shorter breaks

Some workers live by the mantra “live to work,” while others take the “work to live” approach. Regardless of which mantra they believe, breaks are necessary. Encourage people to take shorter breaks as a way to use up their PTO. Taking off every Friday in the summer or having extended long weekends throughout the year is an excellent way for employees to recharge and use up the PTO without feeling they will get too far behind in their work.

Motivate Your Employees

An excellent method of encouragement to take their PTO is to ask employees to share photos, videos, or stories of their holidays or experiences during their time off. It’s also a great way to create a fun culture in your organization and helps coworkers to get to know each other.

Make Taking Time Off Easier

Reward your employees for taking time off by making it easier for them. Highlight employees who properly set up coverage of the duties when they’re on vacation and don’t make coming back to the office so burdensome that no one truly wants to take a vacation. Look for other ways to make taking PTO a valued activity.

Avoid Employee Burnout and Implement New Policies

Boosting employee morale and productivity can start by creating a company culture that encourages people to use their vacation time. Managers and HR leaders can start “walking the talk” by changing how employees view PTO. If you have any questions about anything we discussed in this article, we’d love to hear from you.

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