For a long time, employers have offered paid time off (PTO) as a way to provide flexibility to the workforce to meet their personal needs. However, new data shows that PTO isn’t as good at meeting those needs as we thought.
Why? There are a number of reasons that are outlined in the new report. In a study that included responses from 1,000 PTO-eligible workers at jobs from multiple industries, we found that different demographic groups had barriers to taking all of their paid leave. For instance:
- Income gaps: 56% of workers making less than $49,000 a year use all their vacation time, but 72% of those making over $125,000 do. Lower income workers are less likely to be able to take advantage of this benefit to its full extent, citing too much work followed by concerns about job security and manager perceptions.
- Gender gaps: in the study we found that women were 43% less likely than men to say that they use all their leave every year, citing hesitancy around how they would be perceived at work, job worries, or lack of ability to afford a vacation.
- Racial gaps: Nonwhite employees are 19% less likely to take all their leave every year compared to white workers, with the ability to afford a vacation showing slightly higher for this group.
Not only that, but the research also uncovered something startling. During the pandemic, about 80% of workers took less time off due to travel restrictions and other limitations. In a year when we needed time, rest, and recovery more than ever, the majority of the workforce was unable to take advantage of that benefit, with many of them losing any hours if the company didn’t allow rollovers of leave from year to year.
Why This Research, and Why Now?
The focus of this research was to understand employee perceptions of this benefit, but it was also used to gauge their interest in a new flexible type of paid leave option that gives the workforce and employers more control. In our research, we see flexibility rise in importance, and flexibility in benefits actually ranks higher for workers than remote work!
Thanks to new technology, employers can leverage innovative tools that convert paid leave into things employees need, including everything from emergency cash savings and retirement savings to charitable contributions and donations to coworkers in need. Speaking of donating, four out of five workers say they would gladly give some of their paid leave to a coworker that experienced an emergency.
In the report we outline the degree to which employees would prefer these types of benefits to more traditional PTO plans, and we also uncover an employee retention statistic that is mind-blowing: 9 out of 10 workers say this type of benefit would make them more likely to stay with their current employer.
Ben Eubanks is the Chief Research Officer at Lighthouse Research & Advisory. He is an author, speaker, and researcher with a passion for telling stories and making complex topics easy to understand.