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How Much PTO Should I Give My Employees

TSheets examines the state of paid time off for U.S. employees in 2018

Navigating employee benefits can feel like toeing the line between investing in employee health and evaluating the costs of retention. Every employee requires time off for vacations, sickness, and to be with family, at one point or another. But how much paid time off do employees require?
Since paid time off is a benefit and a privilege many Americans value — and often expect and look forward to — we wanted to know how much paid time off the average employee receives, whether or not they use it, and how they use it. TSheets commissioned an independent survey of 500 US employees to find out.

On average, people receive 11 days of PTO per year

Roughly 16 percent of employees surveyed say they aren’t receiving any PTO this year, while 21 percent receive between six and 10 days. On the flipside, 5 percent of employees say they receive 31 days or more.

How much PTO will you get this year?

A chart of how many days surveyed workers receive for PTO. A chart of how many days surveyed workers receive for PTO.

Of those employees who have PTO, the majority (35 percent) use all of it. That said, we found 30 percent say they left at least a day of PTO hours unused. On average, people left five days of PTO unused last year. That’s roughly 563,694,800 days of unused PTO.

There was a variance in the number of days workers left unused, which is informed by age. Over half (61 percent) of 18- to 25-year-olds, for instance, left at least one day of PTO unused at the end of the year, as opposed to 39 percent of employees aged 45 and above who left a day or more unused.

Forty-two percent of employees aged 55 and over say they didn’t take their PTO because of their workload, whereas only 8 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds say the same.

How much PTO did you not use last year?

Chart of unused employee PTO. 1 in 3 workers had unused paid time off. Chart of unused employee PTO. 1 in 3 workers had unused paid time off.

1 in 3 workers feels pressured to not take time off

Why would people leave their precious time off hours unused? We found several reasons. In alignment with the finding that 60 percent of employees say they’ve worked while on PTO, most employees cite work-related reasons for not using all of their time off, while 40 percent save it to carry over into the next year.

Almost 1 in 3 (32 percent) say they feel pressured to not take time off, despite the fact that many live with stress they describe as damaging.

Photo of workers collaborating at their desk.
Chart showing reasons didn't use all of their paid time off.

Why didn’t you use all of your paid time off last year?

Data table showing reasons didn't use all of their paid time off.

Many employers (43 percent of them) give employees accrued time off they can carry over into the next year. Around 1 in 4 employers allows employees to accrue PTO but not carry it over, while 1 in 3 prefers to offer an annual allowance.

How does your employer allocate paid time off?

How is employee paid time off allocated?
24%

I accrue PTO days and cannot carry days over into the next year

43%

I accrue PTO days and can carry days over into the next year

14%

I get an annual allowance up front and cannot carry days over into the next year

18%

I get an annual allowance up front and can carry days over into the next year

Work during vacation? You’re not alone!

Turns out 60 percent of employees who take PTO have worked during their time off.

Cartoon of man sitting on the beach during vacation.

Have you ever worked while on PTO?

When have you worked on PTO?

A chart of how many days surveyed workers receive for PTO. A chart of how many days surveyed workers receive for PTO.

Although the majority of employees surveyed say they wouldn’t accept a job that didn’t offer PTO, another 31 percent of employees say they’d still accept.

When have you worked on PTO?

31% of employees surveyed said they would take a job even if it didn't offer PTO.
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Health and wellbeing

It would be difficult to talk about paid time off without talking about health and wellbeing. The two go hand-in-hand, either by way of paid time off for situations like sickness or in giving paid time off for stress relief, family visits, or continued education. Nearly half of the respondents surveyed say they don’t get enough time off.

Meanwhile, 43 percent say they are always or often stressed, and 15 percent say they are always stressed. Another 43 percent are always or often stressed, and 89 percent say they come to work sick.

People who take less PTO are more stressed

Stress levels were found to be higher among employees who do not get PTO. More than half of this cohort (51 percent) say they are “often” or “always” stressed, and 58 percent of them describe it as “unhealthy."

Those with unhealthy stress leave slightly more PTO on the table

Thirty-seven percent of “healthy” stressed people used all of their PTO, while only 30 percent of employees with self-proclaimed “unhealthy stress” used all of their PTO.

More people with healthy stress are saving PTO to carry it over

Almost half (45 percent) of employees with unhealthy stress say they’re carrying their PTO over into the next year, while 58 percent with healthy stress will save it up for the next year.

Employees who say their stress levels aren’t healthy are also more likely to say they don't get enough paid time off. Over half (56 percent) of those with unhealthy stress don’t get enough PTO, according to our survey.

People with unhealthy stress come to work sick more often

People with unhealthy stress were twice as likely to go to work sick at least once a month than those who have healthy levels of stress.

People who have unhealthy stress are less likely to have…

Stress and age

Older people were more likely to feel their stress levels were “healthy.” Seventy-three percent of adults 45 and older say they have a healthy amount of stress in their lives, whereas 65 percent of 18- to 44-year-olds say their stress was healthy. The youngest age group of employees surveyed fell lower on the healthy stress scale. Nearly 39 percent of employees aged 18 to 24 say they have an unhealthy level of stress.

Photo of worker feeling stressed at their desk.
Chart showing reasons didn't use all of their paid time off.

How often do you experience work-related stress?

Data table showing reasons didn't use all of their paid time off.

Although we can’t control when we get sick, employees do have to make tough decisions about whether to go to work sick or stay home and rest up, especially if they don’t receive any PTO. Nineteen percent of employees admit to going to work while sick more than once per month, and only 11 percent say they never go to work when they’re under the weather. Twelve percent of employees say they go to work sick six times per year.

Chart showing how frequently workers come into work when they're sick.

How often do you come into work when you are sick?

Data table showing how frequently workers come into work when they're sick.

Do employees often mislead their employers about their reasons for PTO?

It could be that it’s a sensitive topic, but people were pretty split about whether they have ever misled a manager about taking time off. When it comes to the reasons for misleading a manager about time off, the answers vary widely. People are more likely to mislead a manager about their time off due to lack of sleep or to care for a sick relative than they are to go to a job interview or recover from a hangover.

Have you ever misled a manager about taking time off?

Survey results: Have you misled a manager about taking time off? 51% said yes.

Why did you mislead a manager about taking time off?

Is PTO as important as a higher paying job?

As important as paid time off is for employees, the majority (74 percent) would rather earn more money than receive more time off, and over half of them say they feel their time off is adequate.

Which would you prefer?

Graphic showing what employees prefer - more time off or more money. 26% preferred more time off. Graphic showing what employees prefer - more time off or more money. 74% preferred more money.

Do you get enough time off?

Survey results: 52% of employees surveyed felt they receive sufficient time off.

How flexible are your employees’ schedules? Flexible work arrangements still seem to be important to people when it comes to work-life balance. Almost half (46 percent) of which say they’d rather take a lower paying job with flexible work arrangements than the inverse.

Would you take a pay cut for a more flexible schedule?

Survey results: 46% of surveyed employees said they would take a pay cut for a more flexible schedule.

Is the PTO employees want the PTO they receive?

When you look at the number of employees who admit to coming to work sick (nearly 22 percent), it’s no wonder 88 percent of employees say they want sick leave.

Interestingly, 78 percent of workers say they think maternity leave is important, leaving about 1 in 5 who says they do not believe maternity leave is important.

Which of the following should employers provide?

Chart showing which types of PTO employers should provide to workers. Chart showing which types of PTO employers should provide to workers.

PTO practices among educators

Although 40 percent of educators report having unhealthy levels of stress, only 23 percent of educators use all of their paid time off.2 Twenty-one percent of those who do not use their PTO say it is due to their workload, while 12 percent say their manager would not approve of their time off. Not surprisingly, 81 percent say they’ve worked on their day off, and while 40 percent say they’d take a job that didn’t provide PTO, 77 percent of educators say they’d actually prefer a raise over more PTO.

Healthcare workers and PTO

It could be the norm that healthcare workers have to work while sick. We found 15 percent say they go to work sick every week, 46 percent feel they don’t get enough PTO, and 50 percent say they don’t take time off because their workload is too heavy or they don’t feel comfortable asking for the time.

Paid time off for hotel and food industry workers

Our survey found a large percentage of employees in the hotel and food industry — 32 percent — do not get any paid time off. Nearly 60 percent say they don’t get enough time off, and only 15 percent say they don’t come to work when they’re sick. Regardless of this, higher wages seem to be more important to hotel and food industry workers than paid time off. Over three-quarters of these employees say they’d prefer a raise over more PTO.

PTO in Canada is comparable to PTO in the United States

It is often said US workers get less time off than their counterparts in other countries, but TSheets found this isn’t always true. A comparable TSheets study in Canada involving 500 employees found employers here typically offer 10 days of PTO per year — comparable to the 11 typically received in the US.

Australians get between 16 and 20 days of PTO per year

It’s a different story in Australia, however, where another recent TSheets study found that employers typically offer employees between 16 and 20 days of PTO per year.

US workers are more money-oriented, less likely to get PTO

Although US employees are the less likely to receive PTO than their Canadian or Australian counterparts, 74 percent of US workers would take a raise over more PTO. Sixteen percent of American workers say they get no PTO at all, compared to 14 percent of Australian workers and just 8 percent of Canadian workers.

Photo of couple riding bikes by the ocean

The state of paid time off, 2017 edition

A similar PTO survey, conducted in 2017, found 16 percent of 400 employees received no PTO at all in the previous year.3 Employers typically provided between 11 and 15 days of PTO per year. Of the workers who received PTO, 70 percent did not use all their time. With around 26 percent of employees leaving 10 or more days unused at the end of the year, TSheets estimated that 600 million days were left unused at year’s end.

In total, 88 percent of respondents said their employers should provide paid time off, and 63 percent said they’d turn down a job offer if it didn’t include PTO. Another 85 percent of employees said employers should provide sick leave, and 72 percent said employers should provide maternity leave (only 11 percent of employers offered it). The survey also found 80 percent of employees would prefer a raise to more time off, but 62 percent said they’d forgo a raise for a more flexible work schedule.

1TSheets commissioned Pollfish to survey 500 US employees aged 18+ in March 2018 about how much paid time off they get and how they use it. TSheets designed and paid for the survey and welcomes the re-use of this data under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original source is cited with attribution to “TSheets.”

2A sample of 38 educators participated in this study.

3TSheets commissioned Pollfish to survey 400 U.S. employees in April 2017 about how much paid time off they get, how they use it, and the value they place in it. The respondents were all over the age of 18 and "employed for wages."

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