part time off

Want Happy Employees? Encourage Optimal Use of Paid Time Off

February 21, 2024 |

Taking time off work is not only beneficial for employees’ mental health but also for business productivity and engagement. However, finding the right balance when it comes to the amount of paid time off (PTO) workers should take can be challenging. In this article, we will explore new research findings on the optimal use of PTO and discuss ways employers can encourage their employees to take the time off they deserve.

The Science Behind Optimal PTO Usage

According to recent research conducted by CalendarLabs, the happiest employees took an average of 15 PTO days last year. The study surveyed 812 employees in the U.S. and the U.K., as well as 200 employers, to gather insights for its comprehensive report, The Time Off Report. Interestingly, U.S. employees who worked remotely took slightly fewer PTO days (an average of 14) compared to onsite employees who took an average of 15 days off. However, U.S. employees as a whole still took significantly fewer days off than their U.K. counterparts, who averaged about 24 days per year.

The research suggests that taking time to recharge is essential for avoiding burnout. It’s worth noting that more than 1 in 5 employees with fixed PTO plans to change jobs in the next year, indicating that unhappiness at work may be linked to a lack of time off. Therefore, employers should pay attention to these findings and take steps to ensure their employees have the opportunity to take the necessary time off to recharge and maintain their well-being.

The Problem of Unused PTO

Despite the benefits of time off, many employees fail to fully utilize their allotted PTO. The report found that nearly 40 percent of employees in the U.S. did not use all of their PTO last year. Shockingly, 55 percent of those workers had to forfeit their unused days. This trend raises concerns about employees not taking advantage of the time off they are entitled to, potentially leading to burnout and decreased job satisfaction.

There are various reasons why employees may hesitate to use their PTO. The research revealed that a majority of employees (78 percent) feel guilty about taking time off due to concerns about adding to their colleagues’ workloads or falling behind in their work. Additionally, more than 1 in 4 employees reported hesitating to take PTO due to fears about job security1. These findings highlight the need for employers to address these concerns and create a supportive environment that encourages employees to take the time off they need.

Encouraging Optimal PTO Usage

To promote optimal PTO usage and create a healthier work culture, employers can implement several strategies:

1. Educate Employees on the Benefits

Many employees may not fully understand the positive impact that taking time off can have on their well-being and overall job performance. Employers can educate their workforce about the benefits of PTO, such as increased productivity, improved mental health, and reduced stress levels. By emphasizing these advantages, employers can help employees overcome any reservations they may have about taking time off and encourage them to prioritize self-care.

2. Lead by Example

Employers should set a good example by taking time off themselves. When employees see their supervisors and managers enjoying their PTO guilt-free, it sends a powerful message that time off is not only acceptable but also encouraged. Leaders should refrain from checking work-related emails or reaching out to employees during their time off, demonstrating that unplugging from work is essential for well-being.

3. Create a Positive PTO Culture

Foster a workplace culture that values and supports time off. Encourage employees to plan their PTO well in advance and ensure that their workload is covered during their absence. Managers should regularly remind employees about their available PTO and actively encourage them to use it. By normalizing the use of PTO and celebrating employees who take time off, employers can shift the perception that taking time off is a burden.

4. Provide Flexible PTO Policies

Offering flexible PTO policies can help accommodate individual needs and preferences. Some employees may prefer taking longer vacations, while others might benefit from shorter, more frequent breaks. By allowing employees to tailor their PTO according to their specific circumstances, employers can increase the likelihood of PTO usage and ensure that employees feel supported in maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

5. Address Workload and Job Security Concerns

Employees often worry about the impact their absence may have on their workload or job security. Employers can alleviate these concerns by implementing proper coverage plans to ensure that work continues smoothly during an employee’s absence. Cross-training employees and fostering a collaborative work environment can help distribute responsibilities effectively. Employers should also communicate clearly with employees about their job security and emphasize the importance of taking time off for their well-being.

6. Encourage Disconnecting from Work

Taking time off means truly disconnecting from work-related responsibilities. Employers can encourage their employees to disconnect by setting clear expectations regarding email and communication during PTO. Managers should refrain from contacting employees on their days off unless it is absolutely necessary. By creating boundaries and respecting employees’ time off, employers can help them fully recharge and return to work feeling refreshed.

7. Foster a Supportive Work Environment

It’s crucial for employers to foster a supportive work environment where employees feel comfortable taking time off without fear of judgment or negative consequences. Encourage open communication and establish channels for employees to express their concerns or seek guidance on PTO-related matters. By providing support and understanding, employers can create a positive work environment that values employee well-being.


Ensuring that employees take optimal amounts of PTO is crucial for their well-being and job satisfaction. Employers can play a significant role in promoting a healthy work-life balance by educating employees about the benefits of time off, leading by example, and creating a supportive PTO culture. By addressing workload concerns, encouraging disconnecting from work, and fostering a positive work environment, employers can empower their employees to take the time off they need, resulting in happier and more engaged employees.

Remember, prioritizing employee well-being and promoting the optimal use of PTO not only benefits individuals but also contributes to a more productive and successful organization overall.

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