How one company hopes to optimize unused paid leave

The lofty vision? Reduce organizations' PTO liability while preventing burnout and boosting employee engagement and financial wellness.
By: | March 25, 2021 • 3 min read

Even before 2020, millions of American workers—55% of them, according to one study—were leaving millions of paid vacation days on the table each year. U.S. companies were carrying $224 billion in liability for that unused PTO, according to a study by Oxford Economics, and burnout, anxiety, on-the-job injuries, financial worries and other stressors were on the rise.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, those metrics only worsened and organizations’ unused PTO liabilities grew to more than $300 billion, according to PTO Genius co-founder Adam Gordon. But that provided an even larger opening than expected for the company’s new HR technology tool, which was just going to market after 18 months of prep work when lockdowns began.

Employees were working longer hours—40% longer than pre-COVID, Gordon said. Organizations’ already high burnout risks began rising, along with worries about financial wellness, physical health, mental wellbeing and potential disengagement from work. And with no one taking vacations, PTO liability also continued climbing.

That’s where Gordon believes PTO Genius, which he and his team showed off recently at the free, virtual Spring HR Technology Conference & Exposition, can help. (You can register and watch sessions on-demand until April 16.)

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Also see: Can 200 employers spark a federal leave mandate?

The solution, which uses the tagline “optimize, automate and reimagine PTO,” is designed to help save 5.5 weeks a year that companies spend managing PTO, recoup nearly $5,000 in “unrealized revenue” per employee per year because of unused PTO, reduce burnout among employees (thereby boosting engagement and reducing stress, anxiety and on-the-job injuries), improve financial wellness by giving employees greater control of how they use their PTO, and, in improving that variety of factors, boost employee experience.

“The bottom line is employees not taking paid time off is costing your company hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars,” Gordon said.

PTO Genius relies on a company’s HRIS data or other leave management software to track individual and collective PTO use, helping reveal which departments or individuals might be facing burnout. It also allows employees to schedule PTO and to convert it, depending on what the employer offers, directly from the platform into retirement account deposits, student loan payments or emergency cash. Other conversions coming soon on the platform include HSA contributions, charity contributions and PTO sharing, Gordon said.

In partnership with a travel provider, the platform also offers “travel and experiences” suggestions on a personalized dashboard, where employees also can see their available PTO and available dates based on team members’ scheduled time off. Employers can customize and control the section, Gordon said, so it could be turned off, suggest only short, local getaways, or include once-in-a-lifetime experiences like a trip to the Super Bowl.

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The solution offers four dashboards to monitor:

  • Burnout risk: This shows employees at risk of burnout based on the time off taken and includes an option to “nudge” employees about the information.
  • Current PTO liability: This breaks down the company’s liability by department and location, for the organization.
  • Potential savings: This shows the correlation between employees using PTO and your organization’s major key performance indicators.
  • PTO hours converted: This shows how your employees are using their PTO and could reveal data to help HR improve employee experience. If, for example, 25% of employees are converting PTO to 401(k), maybe your organization needs to reevaluate how it handles retirement. Or if 40% of employees are using PTO to pay down student debt, a student loan repayment benefit would be more beneficial.

Kevin Davis, vice president and senior benefits consultant at financial institution Univest, watched a demo session given by PTO Genius and was intrigued.

“I like the idea of positioning PTO Genius as a financial wellness budgeting partner to encourage planning for trips along with encouraging PTO usage,” Davis commented during the session. “The other aspects of savings (401k, etc.) are also a great tie-in. Fascinating new service.”

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Watch the PTO Genius demo session at Spring HR Tech here.

Elizabeth Clarke is executive editor of Human Resource Executive. She earned a journalism degree from the University of Florida and then spent more than 25 years as a reporter and editor in South Florida before joining HRE. Elizabeth lives with her family in Palm Beach County. She can be reached at eclarke@lrp.com.

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