Nearly one-third of employees use paid time off for medical emergencies and other obligations rather than pleasure, recent data from TriNet, a provider of HR products and services, show. These employees earned, on average, $22,000 less per year than those who took time off for pleasure.

Women were also more likely to both say that PTO was essential to their workplace happiness and to never check email while on PTO. Generational gaps also showed. While 26% of Baby Boomers said they need four weeks or more of PTO, only 13% of millennials agreed. Most millennials said two to three weeks of PTO was the ideal.

Bloomberg/file photo

“Baby boomers are usually making a little bit more, so they’re actually able to travel and get away from the office, and they’ve got families established,” says Tina Hawk, director of human capital services at TriNet. “Millennials tend to take off in short spurts.”

Generational gap
There are several factors in this generational gap. Millennials may be more tied to their technology, allowing them to access emails and other work while away from the office. They also feel the need to prove themselves at work, while older employees may feel that they have already earned a place at a company.

In an increasingly millennial and technology-focused workplace, these gaps and their causes could spell problems for the future of one of the most common benefits in the American workplace.

“I think the biggest reason that people don’t take time off is that they don’t want to return to a mountain of work,” says Katie Denis, senior director of Project: Time Off. “You can watch it piling up while you’re gone. And there are post-recessionary fears, where people don’t want to be seen as replaceable.”

The irony of this, Denis says, is that employees who take more time off can actually be more productive and creative when they return to work. If an employee spends all day, every day looking at the same screen, they may not have as many opportunities for new, inventive ideas that could help the company.

There are also negative impacts on physical and mental health that can stem from burnout, potentially leading to higher healthcare costs.

Smart business
“On its surface, PTO usage (or lack thereof) may seem like an employee issue, but from a business perspective, it's smart business to support a policy and a culture that allows employees to stay productive, energized and engaged,” says Debra Squyres, a senior professional in human resources and the vice president of Client Success at Namely. She is the former executive director of human capital services for TriNet. “Burnout leads to disengagement, which leads to employee turnover and the tangible and intangible costs of losing skilled employees and organizational knowledge. High employee burnout and turnover can start a downward spiral in company performance that can take years to recover,” she says.

If employers want to reap the healthcare savings and increased performance from employees taking PTO, they may want to look at their own vacation usage. Establishing a culture where PTO for leisure is seen in a positive light can start with employers leading by example. When workers see employers comfortable with taking time off of work, it can validate the importance of PTO and affirm that taking days off won’t negatively impact their career. They can also encourage employees who haven’t been taking days off to do so.

“When employees see their leaders take time off to recharge, it's an indicator that it's not only accepted, but expected, that employees do the same,” Squyres says.

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