Paid-time-off programs continue to be a valuable way to attract and retain employees, with a recent sharp increase in providing paid parental leave separate from short-term-disability programs. Despite the obvious benefits for workers, however, only about two-thirds of employees are taking advantage of all the time coming to them.
These are some of the findings in the 2019 PTO/Paid Parental Leave Programs & Practices Survey conducted by WorldatWork, with underwriting support from PTO Exchange.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily surprising that people are valuing time off more,” says Marta Turba, content director for WorldatWork. “But the way that time off is being expanded is noteworthy. There were significant changes in the number of organizations offering those more innovative programs, like parental-leave programs and paid time off to volunteer.”
Some 42% of companies now offer separate paid parental-leave programs, compared to 23% of companies in 2016 when the survey was last conducted. Thirty-five percent of companies reported offering PTO for volunteer activities, compared to under 25% in 2016.
Another surprise was that newly hired employees seem to have more immediate access to time off benefits than in the past, she says.
“Fifty-two percent of our organizations are allowing immediate use of vacation-time benefits for those who [have been] just hired. With newer benefits like parental-leave programs, 65% of employers are allowing immediate access to those benefits,” she says.
Another innovation is that one-in-four employers allow employees to redirect unused paid time off instead of simply losing the benefit. Programs allow them to donate time to colleagues who need time off (20%), redirect the cash value of unused time off to their 401k (2%) or convert the cash value into a donation to a nonprofit that is important to them (2%). And 63% of companies have PTO bank programs that give workers immediate use of vacation, illness or personal time.
Another surprising finding was that part-time employees are being included more often: 77% of companies offer paid time off (usually on a prorated basis) and 57% offer job-protected parental leave.
“Part-time opportunities may be more abundant and the role that part-time workers have in delivering business value and success is perhaps emphasized more than it has been in the past,” Turba notes.
This increase tracks with what Rob Whalen, co-founder and CEO of PTO Exchange, has been seeing. “Paid time off is going to drastically change over the next five to 10 years,” he says, as companies cater to flexibility desired not just by full-time employees but also by those in the gig economy.
Whalen says it’s also notable that 37% of employees don’t use all their paid time off – and that’s an expensive mistake. “Certainly, we all find it surprising that people leave PTO on the books. People are giving that [money] back to the company and $62.2 billion is going back to the shareholders.”
His company built the online platform which is designed to make it easier to provide employees the flexibility to manage their PTO value by diverting it to other needs, such as retirement, student debt and charitable donations.
Finally, the survey also revealed that employers’ “use it or lose it” policies encouraged more people to take time off so that only 19% of employees left time on the table.
“We often hear that employees want work-life balance, but so do employers,” Turba notes. “PTO programs are important for promoting workforce resilience, sustainability and long-term retention so that people don’t burn out.”