Are your Employees Stressed at Work? Make Sure PTO Policies Aren’t a Contributing Factor

While some employees are lucky to secure a job they love and are passionate about, many others are simply working to pay the bills. Whether you (or your employees) fall into the first category or the second, feeling stressed at work is sometimes inevitable. But there are ways to alleviate that stress, right? You can take a few days off and come back rejuvenated.

Unfortunately, according to recent survey results, that isn’t the case. The folks at Fierce, Inc., a leadership development firm, polled over a thousand full-time employees across the U.S. regarding their experiences with PTO. Of the employees surveyed, almost two-thirds reported they were more stressed or had the same level of stress when they returned to work following time off.

Reasons for this stress included catching up on missed work and resolving major issues that occurred when employees were away. With that stress can come negative side effects like decreased productivity at work, lack of focus, irritability, depression and more. So, what can companies do to help? Review PTO policies to make sure they aren’t a contributing factor.

Consider Increasing PTO Amounts

First, consider the amount of PTO or vacation days your company offers. The majority of employees surveyed said that the ideal number of PTO days would be 20 or more (with those in the 18-29-year-old bracket putting their ideal at 16-20). However, only one-third of survey respondents received that many, with one-fifth reporting they received less than 10 days.

Limiting PTO to two weeks or less doesn’t give employees much room for removing work-related stress from their lives when needed. Consider adopting the employee preferred 20 days or more. Or, adopt an unlimited PTO policy. Not only will this benefit help your company attract top talent, it could also save your company money in the long run due to laws requiring payout of built up PTO days when employees leave.

However, many companies see a price tag attached to an increased amount of PTO. If your company is unable to offer unlimited or 20 or more PTO days, consider offering new employees the standard 10 days and increase the amount each year. For example, you could allot 12 days for employees after 1 or 2 years of tenure, 15 days once they reach 5 years of tenure and 20 or more once they reach 10 years of tenure. This method works as a way to reward employee loyalty to the company.

Encourage Use of Time Off

After reviewing the amount of PTO, make sure to encourage employees to use it. There are several ways to do this. You can adopt a use it or lose it policy. This can prevent employees from putting off taking PTO. However, when adopting a policy like this, make sure the message to employees is that they should utilize their time off instead of it being a punishment for not using it.

Another way to encourage use of PTO is by setting the example and developing a company culture that encourages time away from the office.

Managers and company leaders should use their time off and when the time comes for an employee underneath them to step away make sure to adopt an attitude of reassurance. Don’t say things like, “I don’t know how we’ll manage without you for a few days,” but instead say “enjoy your time away, we’ll take care of things at the office.”

If you’re worried about an employee’s workload not getting accomplished, train your teams in multiple roles so that when vacation time comes around, other employees can fill in the gaps.

Vacation Means Vacation

Encourage employees to unplug while taking their PTO. In the survey referenced above, 50% of employees checked in with their office while taking time off, with 13% checking in every day. It may be that the employee wants to keep tabs on their work, but others may be feeling pressure to keep up with projects while they’re away.

Try to limit contact with employees taking time off to emergencies only. This shows respect for them and avoids interrupting their recharge time. And, if emergencies do arise that require an employee to put in hours, be sure to credit them the appropriate amount of time in additional PTO.

The Takeaway

Don’t let PTO policies contribute to employee stress. Make sure employees are aware of the company’s policies regarding PTO and revise those policies to be employee-friendly. Consider increasing the number of days available to employees, be sure to foster a culture that encourages employees to utilize their time off and let them use that time off to recharge.


About the Author

Rachel Stones works for Built for Teams, an intuitive PTO system created specifically for small and medium businesses. Business owners and managers can easily review and then approve or deny time off requests with the click of a button. The software includes tons of other intuitive features that make managing schedules, vacation time and days off with ease. Built for Teams was created by the Objective Inc. App Developers.

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