How companies are trying to make hesitant workers actually use their PTO

US workers have a hard time using their vacation days, so certain employers are taking matters into their own hands.
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· 4 min read

It’s July, and if workers aren’t vicariously reveling in summer freedom through their friends’ Instagram feeds, they might be toying with the idea of actually going on vacation themselves. US workers are notoriously tethered to email and other workplace communication tools during so-called vacation: In a March Qualtrics survey of 1,021 full-time US workers, 24% of respondents said they work at least three hours a day while on PTO, and employees had an average of 9.5 days unused PTO at the end of 2021.

In an effort to stop unused vacation days from languishing like a six-pack of White Claw abandoned on the beach, some organizations are trying new ways to get their employees to actually take their PTO. Here are a few examples of how some major companies are going about it this year.

Mandating consecutive vacation days. Goldman Sachs instituted a new vacation policy, allowing unlimited PTO for managing directors and partners beginning May 1, and requiring all employees take at least 15 total days by January 1, 2023, according to CNBC. The full scope goes beyond three weeks off, as five of those days must be taken consecutively, all in an effort to “further support time off to rest and recharge,” according to a memo reviewed by CNBC.

Shutting it all down for a week. Burnout can be a scourge, so why not just shut off the (figurative) lights for a week and recharge? That’s what the digital media company Medium did over the Fourth of July week, Lauren Newton, the company’s head of people, announced on LinkedIn. (It was not an entire company shutdown, per se, as a few employees stayed on, “supporting our platform and users while most of us are out,” Newton wrote.)

The plan was born after the company added four new holidays to its company calendar and decided to combine them, then “tacked them onto the July 4th holiday to give ourselves a full week off, instead,” she explained.

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Make the week off a paid benefit. LinkedIn also took off the week of Independence Day, adapting a policy that began last year. Dan Colwin, an account director at the networking platform, explained in a LinkedIn post: “Twice a year #linkedin gives their employees an entire week off and it doesn’t count towards your PTO.”

Consider it similar to Medium’s gambit, just a year older.

Paying workers for PTO before they start. Encouraging a new hire to take paid vacation before their first day of work might seem like a bizarre reverse-psychology exercise, but the restaurant tech company SevenRooms implemented this policy earlier this year, Insider reported.

The company’s chief people officer, Paul McCarthy, told CNBC Make It that before the change was introduced, he was “hearing a lot of people were having a hard time balancing the time they had in their lives. They were burned out between what they were wanting to do and having to choose to work.”

To be sure, inflation is the skeleton in the closet hanging next to your boogie board. But some employers have offered solutions to offset the strain of soaring gas prices and historic inflation, such as providing stipends or travel credits for vacation. Airbnb, notes-taking app Evernote, and BambooHR now offer limited vacation subsidies to their employees in various forms.

If all that fails, we might have to rewrite the lyrics to a certain summer anthem by the Go-Gos to more closely resemble what’s known as a “staycation.”—SB

Do you work in HR or have information about your HR department we should know? Email [email protected] or DM @SammBlum on Twitter. For completely confidential conversations, ask Sam for his number on Signal.

HR is challenging. HR news doesn’t have to be.

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