Me Time

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Does your company label your time off? Many companies have switched from a system that tracks vacation days and sick days to a system that simply calls all days off “Paid Time Off” or PTO. There are plenty of advantages to a PTO system. Workers who remain healthy get to take more vacation days, and workers who have frequent illnesses or medical appointments can keep their personal health status more private. A 2015 survey of over 3,000 workers by found that 38 percent of them had called in sick at least once when they felt fine. Making excuses (or lying) to your boss is not necessary under a PTO system.

Taking sick time off has always been a tough issue to manage.  Is sick time an entitlement? Many workers feel that they are owed the days if they are on the books, and you certainly can’t dictate how much foresight a worker uses or whether he cares that there’s enough time off to cover if he should have a medical emergency. Conscientious workers may begin to feel resentful of workers who use up all their sick time in addition to their vacation time. Then they’ll feel resentful all over again when they leave the company with dozens (or hundreds) of hours that simply disappear when they resign. (Vacation hours must be paid back when an employee leaves.)

In fact, that’s one of the drawbacks of PTO: all of the time is considered accrued vacation time and must be paid back when a worker leaves.  Another possibility: even conscientious workers will be more likely to view PTO as vacation time, and therefore take more time off. It’s also conceivable that sick workers will be more likely to come in sick if they view PTO as vacation time, resulting in spreading more illness to the team or lost productivity from workers who aren’t well enough to perform.

Sick leave is generally considered to be unplanned, unless a worker has scheduled an appointment or procedure in advance, so there is rarely a penalty for calling in sick at the last minute. Vacations are expected to be planned in advance. It might be hard to figure out what a policy should look like with PTO; must workers notify their supervisors in advance? Will there be more unplanned absences to cover as employees take advantage of “me” time off?

Many companies offer times off for specific activities: community service, or personal or professional development. Outdoor equipment company REI offers workers get two paid “yay days”  year to get out into nature and post on social media about their experiences. The posts help boost the company’s brand and promote its staff as avid outdoor people who understand the activities and gear they sell.

Some companies regulate not only how much time off you can take; they also regulate how often you take vacation.  Many companies allow employees to accrue only a certain number of weeks per year without taking time off.  So called “use it or lose it” policies prevent the company from having to bank the cash to cover accrued time, which in a large company can amount to millions of dollars. For employees who have “lost” vacation days, the policy feels inhumane, and the State of Colorado agrees. In 2015, the state legislature passed a law that says once a worker has earned a vacation day, it cannot be “un-earned,” joining 17 other states with similar policies. (Florida isn’t one of them.) The law does not apply to PTO, so many employers are pondering policy changes.

According to a 2014 report from the U.S. Travel Association, Americans get an average 21 paid vacation days a year, and forfeit an average of 4.9 of them. And according to a survey by Glassdoor, “61 percent of Americans work while they’re on vacation, despite complaints from family members; one-in-four report being contacted by a colleague about a work-related matter while taking time off, while one-in-five have been contacted by their boss.” Apparently, we can run, but we can’t hide.

That’s all for now; I’m taking the rest of the afternoon off.


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