How to Create a Positive PTO Culture

By Rob Whalen - Sep 7, 2023 11:41:25 AM - 6 MINS READ

There's a new epidemic in corporate America: workoholism. We've become a culture of workplace junkies, taking little to no time off, and when we do, we're not entirely disconnected. According to a study from MyPerfectResume, 82% of American workers work while on vacation. 

From feeling like they need to be on top of things to avoiding stigma from colleagues, workers feel like they can't take any time off. And a big part of that is because of their company's culture around PTO. Employees will only feel encouraged to take it if a company has a healthy culture around PTO. So, it's up to companies to create a healthy culture around PTO to prevent burnout and improve the well-being of their employees. 

The elephant in the room

Burnout is the most significant problem HR leaders are struggling to tackle. It's caused by overworking long days without taking time off, leading to emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and a diminished sense of personal accomplishment. Burned-out team members are less productive, creative, and stressed. This wreaks havoc on workplace retention as they are less engaged and loyal. In fact, 42% of workers have left a job because of burnout. 

The benefits of downtime 

Rest is essential for our mental and physical health. Though counterintuitive, rest is productive and benefits us in the long run. We can think more clearly and work better when we've had time away from it. Taking time off results in reduced depression, better sleep habits, reduced heart disease, and a lower mortality rate. Detaching from work makes us more energetic and resilient. Not to mention, it boosts productivity and the company's bottom line. 

More companies are trying to eliminate fears of taking time off by encouraging PTO and self-care. And it starts with company culture. 

Fostering a healthy PTO culture

A healthy PTO culture starts with company culture. Company culture is vital to employee happiness and engagement and can be the difference between employee turnover and retention. Disengaged employees are 3.8 times more likely to cite organizational culture as a reason for leaving. 

Leaders can promote a work-life balance through their company culture, namely, their PTO policy. Company culture is vital in how comfortable employees feel when taking time off. Messages that leadership sends employees through policies and programs and how they are implemented and managed speak volumes about the company's values. A thoughtful, well-designed, and inclusive PTO program shows employees that managers are executives who care about and appreciate them, which, in turn, can positively shift an organization's culture. 

That said, reinforcement and encouragement for PTO must come from the top. If a company sets a culture of PTO and taking time off, leaders must set an example for the rest of the employees. Not taking time off reinforces negative assumptions around PTO, making it harder for employees to disconnect from work. Positive reinforcement from managers and leadership can counteract the guilt many feel for taking PTO. 

Create a healthy PTO policy

There are a few ways companies can create a healthy PTO policy: 

  • Inclusive PTO programs: In addition to federal holidays, businesses can add additional holidays that appeal to their workforce's diverse religious, cultural, and personal beliefs. Companies have also added "floating holidays" that employees can take at their discretion and other PTO options such as volunteer days, mental health and wellness breaks, sabbaticals, and paid relief so employees can spend more time with their friends, family, and community. 
  • Leave-sharing, donations, and volunteering: Employees can use their unused PTO to donate to a coworker in need or donate to charitable causes that are important to them. Offering a leave-sharing program and an option for charitable donations fosters a company culture of giving. It makes employees proud to work for a community-focused company that promotes social good.
  • Incentivize taking time off: Companies can pay their employees to take time off by offering them vacation bonuses, stipends, or expense reimbursements. Another way to incentivize PTO is to implement mandatory PTO to encourage employees to disconnect from work to rest and recharge. 

A healthy culture around PTO is important

PTO should be used and celebrated rather than something employees should be ashamed to ask their managers for approval. And it's not just enough to have a PTO policy; you need a company culture that supports and positively reinforces the policy. Download our newest ebook to learn how your company can help support well-being and happiness by creating a positive PTO culture.



Rob Whalen

Rob is co-founder and CEO of PTO Exchange.

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