On Using Paid Time Off

Using up paid time off is one of my “soapbox” issues. The first time I wrote a non-traditional out-of-office message, I wrote that I was working to reach my goal of being in the 1/3rd of Americans using up all their vacation time. Putting that in writing felt risky – even if it was honest.

When I find out that someone – a friend, coworker, family member, stranger on the street – is leaving their time on the table, I can launch into a lecture faster than the weather changes in New England. It’s a benefit! You’re leaving money on the table!

Then I got sick last week. Flu plus strep meant I could barely get my own hot tea, much do anything else. Using PTO wasn’t a choice, it was a safety net I am privileged to be able to use. And yet, I still felt guilty. I’ve done the mental math to see how or if I’ll need to adjust future time-off plans to keep some days in the bank for when my son gets sick this year. Did I take a day away from him? Can I afford one more day to recover?

Did you know 52% of Americans don’t use all their vacation time?

https://projecttimeoff.com/reports/state-of-american-vacation-2018/

A close friend in high school – in the 90s – had a mom who let her take mental health days. I thought she just had a cool mom, and now I realize she had a mom ahead of the times.

With all the talk of unplugging and self-care, the ability to have or to use paid time off is missing from the discussion. Using all your paid time off is self-care. It benefits you and your company. They aren’t giving it to you out of the goodness of their hearts – PTO was fought and won by workers who didn’t have it. Just like weekends, if we’re honest. It’s easy to take it for granted when we didn’t have to ask for it.

You’re more likely to use your PTO if you plan ahead.

Here are ways I want to help others justify using all their PTO this year:

For the workaholic friend who can’t disconnect even when he’s supposedly away on vacation, I point out that taking breaks to recharge make you a better employee. You’re more creative, have new perspectives on old problems and are setting an example for others in your organization. Otherwise known as being a stronger leader.

For the family member who thinks being home and “doing nothing” is a waste of time, I point out that daydreaming lets your brain recover from constant problem solving. Reading fiction is more likely to help you expand your horizons and empathize with others. Learning a new skill impacts your brain chemistry in ways that make you happier.

For the coworker who comes in with a cold, thinking that showing up shows dedication and commitment…well, I stay away from them. No one wants someone else’s germs in the office. But resting and taking a sick day often means you’re sick for a shorter amount of time.

I’ve been all these people. I’m sure I’ll be them again.

I’ll also always try to get to PTO = 0.

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