The State of Paid Time Off in America: Insights for Small Business Owners

As a consultant for small and medium-sized businesses, I often advise entrepreneurs on setting up impactful paid time off (PTO) policies. However, the statistics show employees nationwide – especially in smaller companies – aren‘t taking full advantage of this important workplace benefit.

Let‘s dive deeper into the numbers to understand how both employers and employees can improve their practices around offering and using PTO.

How Much PTO Do Employees Really Get?

The average number of paid time off days provided in the US is 10 days per year, according to the human resource association SHRM. This lumps together vacation, personal days, and sick time.

However, this average masks significant differences across company sizes:

  • Large companies offer 15 days of PTO on average.
  • Medium businesses provide 13 days.
  • Small companies offer just 10 days of PTO.

For context, most European countries mandate 4+ weeks of paid vacation time separate from sick days.

Employees Aren‘t Using Their PTO

Now for the surprising part – most of that PTO goes unused!

  • 55% of paid time off goes unused annually in the US.
  • 52% of salaried employees forego taking PTO.
  • The #1 reason is fear of falling behind at work (49% cite this).

This data holds across company sizes and industries. But worryingly, unused PTO is highest at small businesses (61% unused).

Why Don‘t Employees Take Time Off?

There are a few key reasons workers pass up PTO:

  • Heavy workloads: 49% say they don‘t want work to pile up.
  • Peer pressure: 52% feel guilty about co-workers taking up the slack.
  • Company culture: 33% say their workplace encourages working while sick.
  • Unclear policies: Only 39% of workers fully understand their PTO policies.

The Costs of Forgoing PTO

There are significant downsides when employees don‘t take time off:

  • Health: Skipping vacations and working while sick increases stress and burnout.
  • Engagement: Workers who take PTO are more engaged and loyal to their company.
  • Productivity: After returning from vacation, 65% of employees reported improved focus and productivity.

For businesses, low PTO usage results in higher turnover rates and recruiting costs.

What Should Small Business Owners Do?

Here are my top 3 recommendations for small company owners to improve PTO policies and usage:

  1. Lead by example – Take time off yourself and encourage employees to do the same. Culture starts at the top.
  2. Allow rollover – Let employees bank PTO to enable longer vacations. Unlimited PTO has pitfalls.
  3. Be transparent – Clearly communicate policies and reassure workers their jobs are safe if they take time off.

How Can Employees Take Charge of Their PTO?

For workers, especially at smaller companies, here are tips to fully utilize your paid time off:

  • Plan ahead – Request PTO in advance so you won‘t feel pressured by work demands.
  • Discuss workload – Collaborate with your manager to cover critical projects.
  • Set reminders – Mark your calendar to use PTO before you lose it.
  • Take time off – Don‘t succumb to guilt – you‘ve earned your PTO!

Key Takeaways

PTO benefits both companies and employees when managed thoughtfully. With the right policies and culture from leadership, workers can take timeout to recharge. My advice is to see time off as an investment, not a cost.

What do you think of these paid time off statistics? Do you have experience or advice to share? Let me know in the comments!