Reflecting on priorities of family & work

PTO – I Use it or I Lose It (mentally, that is)

I sit here on Thursday morning, writing this blog. I normally don’t write my blogs during “work time”, but I have taken today off. My kids are on Spring Break and I am going to spend the day with them. I think they’ve settled on bowling after a breakfast of home made waffles – I love Alton Brown’s Basic Waffle Recipe which includes about half whole wheat flour and the kids are none the wiser. I’m sure Yogurtland will factor in at some point.

I’ve taken a vacation day effectively extending a 3 day weekend into 4 as we have tomorrow off as a holiday. To most, the phrase “Use it or Lose It” in relation to PTO (Paid Time Off) probably means that if you do not use your time before the end of the fiscal year, you will not be able to carry it over to the next. For me, it means something different – more on that later.

During my first 16 years after college, I accrued over 100 vacation days. I would have had more, but I took 25-30 after my kids were born. I rarely took vacation days. I was a teacher and principal. I already got a lot of time off and any additional day I took off made me feel guilty – I was leaving my students with a substitute and we all have a view of the typical substitute teacher. My 100 days over 16 years was nothing compared to a few veteran teachers I know. I remember a math teacher who taught for 28 years – and only missed 2 days. Two days in 28 years!!! He accrued 278 days of vacation time and retired 1.5 years early.

I’m not allowed to accrue days like that in my current job – nor would I want to anymore. My organization has a very generous holiday and PTO policy, but employee accrual of PTO by nonprofits presents a financial liability. Nonprofits need to keep PTO, literally, on the books as a liability. Unused PTO must be paid out when an employee leaves. Most nonprofits lack the reserves necessary to protect themselves from a mass exodus of employees with large amounts of accrued PTO. The three nonprofits I worked for all encouraged us to use our remaining PTO during the final months of the fiscal year. I don’t need that encouragement.

For me, though, my motives for taking PTO are not altruistic in helping to make our financials look good. For me, if I don’t use PTO, I lose it – mentally. I enjoy my job immensely (I always have), but I enjoy my time off even more. It presents a time to rest and relax. It also presents a time to spend quality time with the family, quality time by myself (see this blog that explains how important that is to me), run errands, do chores, and on and on and on. Every day I take off, increases my productivity at work as I can focus on what I need to focus on, when I need to focus on it.

ptoinfoThe US Chamber of Commerce recognizes this as such. Their findings are based on research on work and mental health and can be read in their recent report, “Overwhelmed America: Why We Don’t Use Our Paid Time Off“. They highlight something I think I used to suffer from – the “work-martyr complex“. Employees don’t use their PTO because they don’t think they should. They assume that they will miss out on opportunities to shine at their job and will be seen as not completely dedicated to the company. Do you think this is true?

I wonder about companies like Netflix of Evernote with unlimited vacation policies. These policies are essentially social contracts within these companies – set realistic goals, get what you need to get done to reach those goals, and take time off when you want, mutually arranged with your supervisor and those on your team. Does this exacerbate the work-martyr complex or help it? I would imagine it really depends on the culture of such corporations. I am intrigued.

Are you part of the 40%? Do you take your PTO? What do you think about those who do or do not use their PTO?

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This entry was posted on April 2, 2015 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , .
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