PTO – How Much Is Enough?


PTO, otherwise known as Paid Time Off, is a topic that evokes major emotions from employees across just about every industry type. Relatively new, PTO seems to have been introduced in the late 1990s as a way to move from traditional vacation time to more of a “bank”-type program. PTO provides an employee with a certain number of hours each year that they can use as they wish…vacation time, sick time, bereavement time, etc. But is PTO driving your employees to be more or less productive? The answer lies in how companies, and more specifically how bosses, manage their employees PTO time.

Human beings are interesting creatures. We require rules, guidelines, and parameters to operate within. In the absence of rules or laws we have chaos. However, even in light of having rules and laws there are still those who hold little regard for doing what they’re told. When someone breaks a law they are called a criminal, yet when someone pushes back against a policy at work they are often referred to as either a trouble maker or a progressive thinker…it all depends on the type of culture they work within.

Many companies are pushing the envelope when it comes to paying their employees for time away from work. Companies like Motely Fool and HubSpot have unlimited vacation time for which they pay their employees. Both companies say that by treating their employees like adults they get better performance. While I agree in concept, the challenge arises when we experience people having different definitions of what it means to be, and act, like an adult.

Still there are companies who have chosen to rule with an iron first. They micro manage PTO to a level that can at times create distrust between management and its employees. Worse yet, these companies end up forcing employees to make decisions based upon the impact that decision will have on their PTO. Do I leave early to go to the doctors and get docked for PTO? Do I stay home during a winter storm or hurricane or go into the office? Do I pick up my child from daycare early because she’s sick?

If management held its employees accountable for their performance at the highest level than PTO would be a moot point. It is in my experience that organizations that continue to employ non-performers are the ones that try to exert the most control…because they have to.  But docking an employee an hour here, and an hour there for time away doesn’t lead to better results. It simply leads to the perpetuation of tepid results at best.

In order to solve the PTO dilemma companies must first decide upon the culture they want to develop. If it’s one of performance then create the structure that provides clear expectations relative to results along with the tools provided to achieve those results. If your goal is to create a culture of dependency and command and control style management then a rigid PTO policy may be exactly what you need to keep your folks in line.

Now more than ever, companies can create highly productive work forces by leveraging technology more so that traditional command and control policies. Before making any changes to your policy first ask yourself what’s most important to you and your business followed by how do I feel about the employees I have today relative to their ability to executing what I define as most important.

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