PTO – Use It or Lose It

It’s funny, you don’t lament anything until you’ve lost it.  That goes with most things in life, and as you grow older, you start to appreciate certain things a lot more.

While this post might start out very philosophical, it is actually something less complex and something that impacts everyone with employment – time off!

I’m referring to vacation days, paid time off (PTO), sick days and floating days. The calculation of days differs from organization to organization.  Your employment contract should specify your entitlement.

  • In some organizations, you get one lump of days called PTO, which refers to total sick and vacation days you are entitled to
  • In some organizations you get X amount of days for sickness, vacation days and administration days.

This baby has many names and you need to review your employment contract to make sure you fully understand what it is referred to within your company, and how you use it.

Your time off you’ve earned from working with a company for many years, small or big, is a benefit that you need to use.  It’s a benefit that can be used throughout the year and one that the company will not ask you to claim.  It’s a benefit you must claim yourself.

Yes, some European companies do enforce that you take a minimum amount of days off, especially during the summer.  Some of my old colleagues in the Netherlands have to take at least 2 consecutive weeks off at a minimum during the summer.

However, in the US, paid time off is something that employees have to maintain themselves.  And I guess that is fair, as the company should not tell you when to take time off unless it is a seasonal occupation you hold.

Most employees, around the world, are entitled to 15-25 paid days off, throughout a defined 12 months period.  This should be in your employment contract and something that you might have negotiated when joining a new company – like I did a few months ago.

These days are then accrued (earned) throughout employment, meaning that you need to work for the company for some months before you have built up a small bank of hours.

Effectively, to avail of the full pool of days, you need to work a full year.  To explain that further, if you have 20 paid days off in a year, you earn (bank) 1.666 days per month worked.

At the end of the year, companies are not required to let you transfer unused days to the following year.  In fact, some companies do not allow transfer and others allow you to carry forward up to 5 days.

You might wonder why is that?

Well, if you do decide to leave the company, you are entitled to get the full payment for your vacation days in your “bank”.  what companies realized is that this ends up being a significant amount of days, and cost, so they started to lock down the days you can carry forward.

On the flip side, it also forces you to take time off, which is super healthy for you, and allows you to spend time with family and friends.  It supports a good work-life balance despite that some employees might say “you cannot force me to take time off, you evil corporation monster!”.

For many years, I worked tirelessly for many months and avoided to take time off unless my wife started to give out to me about missing time with the family.  She rightfully wanted us to take some quality time off, and visit some beautiful destination or just do a staycation.

Part of me felt guilty for taking time off.  How would projects get completed?  What if something broke down and I was not there?  What if people were looking for advice or updates?  Would decisions be made without me and would that impact my career aspirations?

  • The company hired and uses me for my skills, and I owe them my time to help them succeed.
  • I was putting unnecessary burdens on myself, and assuming that I was irreplaceable.

Here’s the well-known secret – companies and projects will absolutely survive if you go on holiday, and you will not be fired to take well earned paid time off.

You deserve to recharge your batteries.  The company needs you to rest and get back full strength, and that will ensure that your projects and services are delivered with top quality and against the objectives.

Working yourself into the ground does not help you or your employer.

I recently heard a story where a person is yelled at by the boss when the employee requests time off.  While I appreciate that the employer might want to keep the person at work all the time because he values and needs the employee, the employer cannot and should not force anybody not to take paid time off.  Legally I do not believe he can even force them to not take it if it is documented in the employment contract.

In this case, the employee feels pressured not to take time off and that in turn impacts motivation and family relations.  This is completely wrong, and the employee should simply request time off, obviously considering the workload and projects, and ignore the employer’s rants.

… easier said than done, but you have negotiated and earned the paid time off.

More importantly, you might have a family and spending time with family is extremely important.  Believe it or not, but a happy family equals a happy life, and that in return will make you a super employee.

As a leader within my organization, I fully support and value a good work-life balance.  I want my team to take time off, but at the same time make sure that their assignments are given to a colleague to manage while out, and to make sure that multiple people from same team are not out at the same time.

Supporting paid time off, and respecting people’s lives, makes it a much stronger and efficient team.

Work-life balance is essential to delivering results, and supporting paid time off is a simple way of appreciating your employees.  It’s a benefit that you often forget about, but one that will impact you and the employer the most if not utilized.

As you can see, you have to work for time off, so you should absolutely take the days off when you can.  You’ve earned it!

Don’t lose time with your family and don’t lose the days you’ve earned yourself.  You might as well give money to strangers if you do not use these days off.

Lastly, if you work yourself too hard, you will suffer in the long run from health-related issues.  This is obviously not medically proven, but I can guarantee that your mental state changes when you work too hard, your body gets exhausted and you start dropping in quality.  All these factors will eventually catch up with you, and it will impact your job performance and your ability to provide for your family.

You get stressed, and that impacts your relationship with your partner.  I know from personal experiences how worked long hours and less time off impacted my relationship with my wife and kids.  It is not worth it.

Once I changed my attitude towards time off, and actually spend time with my family, the more it impacts my work in a positive manner.

Please take paid time off seriously.  Use the days.  Go somewhere, even if it just gardening or short trips in the area.  The fact that you take time off and recharge batteries, the better of partner/parent, and employee you will become.

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