The Practical Employer author, Jon Hyman.
An FYI on Taking PTO

Jon Hyman | The Practical Employer

An FYI on Taking PTO

By Jon Hyman | The Practical Employer


y family and I recently spent eight days in Italy. My kids (ages 10 and 12) each year get the last two weeks of March off school. This year, we decided to spend our spring break in Rome and Florence. It was a whirlwind tour.

We covered a lot of ground — per my Apple Watch, 63 miles and 140,000 steps, to be precise. And we saw a lot of stuff — the Vatican, the Colosseum, lots of beautiful churches, lots of ancient sites and ruins, lots of famous works of art, and (almost) too much pizza, pasta and gelato (but never too much vino rosso). It was completely glorious. If you’ve never been, you are ordered to starting booking your trip now.

Some people live to work; I work to live, and part of that living is time off for travel. There are so many places in the world to experience, and it brings me so much joy to be able to share those experiences with my family.

Sadly, however, not everyone shares my philosophy. Too many workers are leaving vacation days on the table. According to one recent survey, American workers forfeited over 200 million hours of vacation time last year alone, with only 23 percent using all of their allotted time, and more than 50 percent using less than half of their paid time off. This is a shame, and it needs to stop.

Employees need to take their vacation days. No one awards a trophy for having the most unused vacation days at retirement or for working the most hours. Think of it this way. For every vacation day that goes unused, an employee is working a full day for free. It’s their benefit, and they should be using all of it.

Employers, we should be encouraging employees to take their vacation days. It improves employee morale, wellness, and productivity. No one should want an overworked, burned out or stressed out workforce.

Yet, this is exactly what you’ll end up with if your employees do not use their time off. According to Project: Time Off, employees who report that their employer encourages vacations are much happier with their jobs than those whose employer discourages vacations or is ambivalent about them. Moreover, according to the American Psychological Association a rested brain is 31 percent more productive than a tired one.

Employers should be encouraging employees to take their vacation days. It improves employee morale, wellness and productivity.
Thus, let me offer five constructive suggestions to encourage employees to use their full bank of vacation days.

First, teach your employees the benefits of taking vacations. Make it a part of your wellness education. Communicate the health and wellness benefits of taking a vacation. If employees understand that vacations lead to improvements in performance productivity, they will be more likely to leave work behind for a few days.

Second, do not permit employees to roll over unused vacation days. This benefit should be use-it-or-lose-it. Otherwise, you risk employees not using it annually. This doesn’t necessarily apply, however, to how you handle the payout (or lack of payout) to an employee at the end of employment for unused vacation or other paid time off. That depends in which of the 50 states you are located and what that state’s specific law says, or doesn’t say, about the payout of accrued unused paid-time-off at the end of employment.

Third, prohibit vacation shaming. No one should be permitted to discourage from, or tease employees who, take vacation. If you send or permit negative messages about vacations, your employees won’t take them. They will fear letting the team down or the time off impacting their employment. This form of bullying cannot and should not be tolerated.

Fourth, take your own time off. If the boss never takes a vacation, employees won’t either. If you want your employees to take time away from work, do so yourself. Leadership and messaging starts at the top. If you make vacation a priority, your employees will, too.

Fifth, ease employees back to work. When asked why they don’t take time off, most employees cite the fear of returning to a backlog of work and thousands of emails to which to respond. Plan for coverage when employees are out, and provide a day upon their return for catch-up, so that they won’t fear the return-to-work ambush or avalanche.

Finally, when you make it to Italy, can you please do your best to dissuade everyone you meet that American culture extends beyond “Baywatch” and “The Dukes of Hazzard.” They were the only English-language television shows I found during our few moments of downtime each day, and I’m frightened of the image they paint of us as a society.

Jon Hyman is a partner at Meyers, Roman, Friedberg & Lewis in Cleveland. To comment, email Follow Hyman’s blog at