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Tackling Time Off: 2015 PTO Survey Results

Summer vacation season is officially over.

We took two separate weeks away with our boys this year. During the first, my middle child thanked me for unplugging completely and being present with the family. It was quite the moment, and the memory of that conversation should bolster my no-work commitment for several more vacations to come.

Here at Life Meets Work, we strive to communicate the value of unplugging on vacation. And I understand that the best way to get my employees to take that message to heart is to model the same behavior myself. (Yes, it’s hard!)

We recently conducted an informal survey* among our newsletter recipients and social-media followers, aimed at understanding their companies’ vacation practices. Here’s what we found:

Use It, or Don’t

Over half (~58%) the respondents indicated management walked a neutral line on PTO, neither discouraging nor encouraging its use. Hearteningly, more than a third (~36%) said management actively encouraged employees to use all their PTO time, with only 6% reporting that PTO use was discouraged.

SOURCE: 2015 PTO Online Survey by Life Meets Work

Accordingly, it seems employees follow management’s signals: ~62% said employee use “some” PTO days, while 35% said employees use as much PTO as possible.

Opportunity: Promote PTO and your employees will follow. PTO utilization improves employee well-being and engagement.


Only a few workplaces, however, are actively pushing employees to unplug. Just ~6% of respondents indicated that employees were discouraged from checking email and voicemail on vacation. Another ~17% indicated it was the norm for employees to check email and messages and remain at least somewhat available. For the other ~77%, employee habits are a mix of plugged and unplugged, depending on workload, department, and personal behavior.

Opportunity: Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to unplugging. So encourage everyone to do their own thing. But convey your support for completely unplugging on vacation, and model that behavior yourself. That way, the employees who would rather unplug feel secure in doing so.

Count It Up

As for quantity, respondents indicated the average number of PTO days allotted to employees, on average is:

  • 6 to 10 days (~12%)
  • 11 to 15 days (~33%)
  • 16 to 20 days (~33%)
  • More than 20 days (~20%)
SOURCE: 2015 PTO Online Survey by Life Meets Work

And, if their PTO allocation isn’t quite enough, a third have the opportunity to take additional unpaid time away.

Opportunity: If you only offer one week of vacation on average, or you’re still calculating vacation accruals based on hours worked for the year, try a more modern approach. Unlimited PTO is growing in favor, and employers find they have to encourage more PTO utilization with this model since employees tend to hold back.

Rest Required, All Year
With summer over, most HR consultants will be packing up their “use your vacation” messaging for another year. But we all need breaks, year round, to give our brains a rest. Continue educating your team about the benefits of taking breaks and unplugging.

Opportunity: Think ahead to the holidays, and consider something semi-radical like blocking access to work email on office closure days. Or plan an “Unplug for the Holidays” promotion.

As president of Life Meets Work, Kyra Cavanaugh has helped hundreds of companies think differently about how work gets done. She specializes in helping organizations improve performance through remote work, workplace flexibility, collaborative scheduling, and other new ways of working. Learn more about Kyra and her team, and connect with her on LinkedIn.

*More than 65 respondents participated in the survey, from a mix of organizations. A third came from companies with more than 100,000 employees.