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Do You Want Happy Employees? Convince Them to Take as Many PTO Days

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Most people already know that taking time off from work is good for them: it's good for employees' mental health and good for business because it can increase productivity and engagement. But is there a specific “sweet spot” for the number of paid vacation days employees should take?

According to a new study, there is such a thing: The happiest workers took an average of 15 PTO days last year. This is according to new data from the website CalendarLabs, which surveyed 812 workers in the US and UK and 200 employers for its Time Off Report.

U.S. employees who work remotely took an average of 14 PTO days last year, compared to on-site employees who took 15 days. However, US employees take far fewer days off than their British counterparts, who take an average of around 24 days per year.

"Taking time to recharge is important to avoid burnout," says Hannah Workman, a creative team member at CalendarLabs. "Employees who don't take PTO could be unhappy at work, considering that more than 1 in 5 employees with fixed PTO said they plan to change jobs in the next year."

The new data is particularly timely as many employees take vacation during the Christmas period. According to the study, December is the most common month for U.S. workers to take PTO.

Although the data shows that the happiest employees take about three weeks of vacation per year, it also highlights some problems with PTO that employers should address in the coming weeks as the year ends - namely, that many employees are not taking as much time off as they are offered becomes.

Nearly 40 percent of U.S. employees did not use all of their PTO days during the past year, according to the report, which found that 55 percent of those employees had their unused days forfeited. And the majority of workers (78 percent) feel guilty about taking PTO because they fear increasing their colleagues' workloads or falling behind on their work. Additionally, more than 1 in 4 workers say they are hesitant to take PTO because of fear for their jobs.

"It's no secret that taking time to recharge is important for employees' mental health, but there still seems to be a stigma around taking PTO," explains Workman.

Another problem with taking PTO is that the majority of employees say they work even when they're on vacation: According to the CalendarLabs survey, 69 percent of employees respond to notifications while they're officially on vacation. That's in line with other recent findings from job site Monster, which found that 65 percent of employees admit to working on their days off to complete time-sensitive tasks or to support their boss or other colleagues who ask questions or need their answers.

What does this all mean for employers? It may indicate that they need to do a better job of encouraging employees to take their PTO — and actually walk away from work — so employees don't burn out, experts said.

"[Employers] should reassure employees that they don't have to work on their days off," said Vicki Salemi, a career expert at Monster. "Bosses should lead by example and not check emails when they are not in the office to show that they are truly switching off. This in turn means that bosses, if they know that their employees are in their free time or on their If you're not in the office on vacation, you shouldn't call your direct reports and expect them to answer."

This, Salemi says, can calm employees and help them reduce stress and anxiety, especially during a stressful time like the end of the year.

In the long term, she added, advocating for employees to enjoy their time off can help strengthen employee retention and increase productivity when they return to work feeling stronger after a break.

The good news, Workman says, is that employers are starting to address the stigma of taking time off for mental health. This is most commonly achieved by encouraging regular conversations between managers and employees (55 percent of companies), followed by training or workshops for managers and leaders (51 percent) and providing resources such as mental health days (43 percent).

These are positive developments, Workman said, but there is a missing component that employers still need to improve: "Employers need to do a better job of ensuring that employees are adequately covered during their leave," she said.

Learn more about IceHrm's PTO Software.

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