5 Vacation Benefits That Ensure Employees Take PTO


With Labor Day in the rearview mirror, we head into a period where many employees won’t have a day off until Thanksgiving. To keep already strained employees fresh, many employers are encouraging workers to use their vacation time, despite the pandemic limiting their options for travel.

Getting employees to take vacation time has been a bit of a challenge for many employers of late, so much so that some employers are creating company specific days off in the name of mental health and preventing employee burnout. The fact is, the trend of American workers not taking advantage of vacation benefits is nothing new, it’s merely amplified by the fact that people are working longer hours in an increasingly stressful environment.

It’s not uncommon to see people leaving vacation days on the table, even in cases where they can’t roll it over and end up losing the days is well established. Getting people to take vacation time is something of a cultural issue, but it can also come down to the type of vacation benefits being offered.

Studies in recent years have shown that increased vacation time was valued as highly as work-from-home options, flexible hours and better benefits, though those numbers have likely changed in the wake of COVID-19. Regardless, if employees have traditionally valued vacation time so highly, why do they struggle to take it?

For some, organizational pressures around the work they do make them feel as if they can’t. A sense of obligation to be there or guilt that they won’t be there when needed can be overwhelming.

For others, it may simply be a matter of not knowing what to do if they did take it. In any case, the fact that being able to take time off boosts productivity and drives engagement is well documented. So to help you increase the likelihood that your employees take advantage of this benefit, even during a time when their travel options are limited, here are 6 benefits to tie into your vacation policy.

  1. Annual Stipends

Many Americans have time off, but given the average level of debt in the United States is more than $90,000, many don’t have or are simply unwilling to spend the money to go on vacation. Rather than sitting around the house for a staycation, many would just prefer to keep on working. This, of course, devalues vacation as a benefit and increases the employees risk of burnout or disengagement.

To help employees afford a vacation and encourage a break, some companies provide an annual stipend. This can be conditional on a few things, including how long the employee has been with the company or requiring the employee to book a vacation in order to receive the stipend. Amounts offered typically exceed $2,000, but the investment will prove worth it when employees return from their break refreshed and ready to work.

  1. Incentivize Time Off

While stipends are good, money to spend may not be sufficient motivation by itself. The workaholic types may need another boost in the form of a vacation incentive. A good example of this is the $500 of additional annual pay the U.S. Travel Association pays employees to use all of their vacation days, a policy that when implemented, increased the amount of employees using their vacation days from 19% to 91%.

Others take it further, offering bonuses for taking a full week of vacation and remaining logged off throughout the entirety of that time.

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  1. Offer Sabbaticals

Sabbaticals can provide the much needed mental health break many employees require, however, this benefit should typically be applied to employees who have been of service to the company for long periods of times. Many companies who do this provide a sabbatical for at least every three years. This perk encourages and rewards loyal employees rather providing improved benefits for people just walking through the door.

Employees who are able to take advantage of the sabbatical tend to be grateful, feel rewarded and that the company has a good work-life balance in place.

  1. Trip Planning Services or Rewards

One problem facing employees as they weigh up vacation options is the time and work it takes to plan a vacation. For many, the effort is too time consuming and exhaustive. To help them, companies can offer trip planning services as a perk to help employees hunt down reasonably priced flights and hotels that tie into other benefits the company offers.

Another way of doing this that is growing in popularity is the redefinition of business travel to incorporate personal travel into it by extending trips to locations where employees have traveled for business. While business travel is obviously down and unlikely to pick back up in the immediate future, it’s something to consider as domestic travel does pick back up and when life begins to return to something resembling normal.

  1. Vacation Programs

No matter how much you invest in a good PTO policy, there will be employees who don’t use it and others who feel it still isn’t enough. While no set plan will make everyone happy, increasing the amount of flexibility for the employee to use it and the ways they can use it can help. An example would be a buy or sell program in which employees can purchase more vacation time or sell vacation time they don’t use back to the company in exchange for other benefits such as child care or retirement perks.

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