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How much PTO should I give my employees?

From vacations to going to work sick, TSheets surveyed US employees about the current state of paid time off

Ever-fascinated by how workers use and misuse their time on and off the clock, TSheets released its third annual survey of U.S. employees to find out whether they receive paid time off (PTO), how they use it, and what role it plays in their busy lives.* While some of the 1,067 employees surveyed are rocking the staycation, others are fibbing their way out of the office and sneaking in mental health days.

Americans leave up to $172B in PTO on the table

Three-quarters of American workers surveyed say it’s very important employers provide paid vacation time (76%), paid sick time (74%), and paid holidays (74%).

Meanwhile, 70% of U.S. workers say it’s very important to provide paid maternity leave. 56% say the same of paid paternity leave. While just over half (52%) of all male workers say paid paternity leave is very important, that jumps to 61% among men ages 18-34.

But while the majority of employees (69%) say they receive paid time off, the remaining 31% say they don’t receive any PTO.

The majority (nearly 61%) of those who had available PTO hours said they left some on the table at the end of last year. A plurality of workers with PTO didn’t use 1-5 vacation days and 1-5 sick days. That means the American workforce left nearly a billion days of paid time off on the table; which begs to demonstrate the need for transparent employee time tracking and employee timsheets.

Those days are worth as much as $172 billion for the 3 in 5 employees who are leaving PTO on the table, at a personal loss of $1,800 per person in unused paid time off. That’s nearly two grand a worker can collect while they take a trip to the beach or take a mental break at home! This is one reason why its important to have the ability to have an accurate way to track PTO for employees and the employers.

Top reasons for not using all of PTO:

Employees get 10.7 paid vacation days, on average

The 69% of employees who report receiving paid time off from their employer get an average of:

  • 10.7 vacation days
  • 6.5 sick days
  • 4 personal days
  • 6.5 holidays
  • 2 volunteering days

If you’re keeping track, that’s a comprehensive package of 29.7 paid days off. Of course, not every employer offers each of those types of paid time off. For employees who get a lump sum of paid time off, they’re offered an average of 8.8 days.

16% of those with PTO report having an unlimited vacation policy. Of those, a plurality of employees says they only use 1-5 days, which is notably less than the average 10.7 days of PTO other employees get for vacation alone. Nearly a third of employees reported that they don’t receive paid time off at all.

Majority of workers have used sick time for a mental health day

Paid time off doesn’t necessarily guarantee an employee isn’t working. 52% of employees with PTO say they’ve worked during their time off.

Employees who report high work-related stress levels are more likely to leave PTO on the table, work while on PTO, and take time off from work to take a mental health day.

Source: TSheets 2019 Paid Time Off Report

Taking time off work for mental health care is still a stigmatized practice, which might explain why half of employees use their PTO for mental health days but say they don’t report the reason to their boss.

More than half of employees (54%) with paid time off have used sick time to take a mental health day in the past year.

And as 1 in 5 employees with paid time off has misled their manager about the reason they needed time off, a quarter of those who admit to it did so to sleep, and 50% did so because they needed a mental health day.

It’s possible that the employees who misled their bosses just don’t know where their employer stands on using PTO for mental health days. Most people who haven’t used sick time for mental health in the past year say they aren’t familiar with their company’s policy on that type of PTO.

When it comes to physical ailments, 84% of respondents with PTO say they still go in sick, and 13% say they go in sick for more than a week each year. Suggesting the trend could be related to company culture, 33% say their employer creates a culture of going to work while sick.

A staycation was the biggest ‘trip’ for 1 in 4 workers

Many employees have been staying close to home in lieu of a planning-intensive—and likely more expensive—out-of-town vacay.

71% of employees have taken a “staycation” in the past year. Nearly a quarter (24%) of U.S. employees surveyed say their biggest vacation using PTO last year was a staycation at home.

Source: TSheets 2019 Paid Time Off Report

A quarter of employees report fair PTO request systems for holidays

Nobody wants to deal with the awkwardness of fighting over spring break or the Fourth of July, so moving to a more fair time off distribution system could be a great way for businesses to make their employees feel more comfortable and appreciative of their benefits packages.

As employees across the nation become more comfortable using accrued PTO for things like mental health days and staycations, it seems workplaces have become more equitable with the way they distribute PTO among employees. 1 in 4 employees reports a fair way of divvying up PTO requests for holidays. But for the most popular times off—Christmas and spring break—seniority rules.

When the most conflict over paid time off happens

*Methodology: TSheets commissioned a mobile phone survey through Pollfish of 1,067 employed U.S. adults on March 4 and 11, 2019, with a margin of error of ±3 percentage points. 738 of those employed U.S. adults reported receiving PTO, with a margin of error of 3.61 percentage points for that group. The margin of error is larger than 3 percentage points for subgroups.

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.”

2018 Paid Time Off Report

• On average, workers receive 11 days of PTO per year. Roughly 16% of employees surveyed said they weren’t receiving any PTO, while 21% received between six and 10 days.
• Nearly 39% of employees aged 18 to 24 said they have an unhealthy level of stress.
• 19% of employees admitted to going to work while sick more than once per month. 12% of employees said they go to work sick six times per year.
• As important as paid time off is for employees, the majority (74%) would rather earn more money than receive more time off, and over half of them say their time off is adequate.
• 77% of educators said they’d prefer a raise over more PTO. Half of healthcare workers said they don’t take time off because their workload is too heavy or they didn’t feel comfortable asking for the time.
• Many employees in the hotel and food industry—32%—said they don’t get any paid time off. Nearly 60% said they don’t get enough time off, and only 15% say they don’t come to work when they’re sick.
• A comparable TSheets study in Canada involving 500 employees found Canadian employers typically offer 10 days of PTO per year.
• It’s a different story in Australia, however, where a TSheets study found that employers typically offer employees between 16 and 20 days of PTO per year.
• Although US employees are less likely to receive PTO than their Canadian or Australian counterparts, 74% of U.S. workers would take a raise over more PTO. 14% of Australian workers and just 8% of Canadian workers say they receive no PTO.

*Methodology: TSheets commissioned Pollfish to survey 500 U.S. employees aged 18+ in March 2018 about how much paid time off they get and how they use it.

2017 Paid Time Off Report

• 16% of 400 employees received no PTO at all in the previous year.
• Employers typically provided between 11 and 15 days of PTO per year.
• Of the workers who received PTO, 70% did not use all their time.
• With around 26% 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% of respondents said their employers should provide paid time off.
• 63% said they’d turn down a job offer if it didn’t include PTO.
• Another 85% of employees said employers should provide sick leave.
• 72% said employers should provide maternity leave (only 11% of employers offered it).
• 80% of employees would prefer a raise to more time off, but 62% said they’d forgo a raise for a more flexible work schedule.
• 60% of employees said they have worked while on PTO. Of those, 23% said they have worked while on vacation.

*Methodology: TSheets 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 adults “employed for wages.”

Full 2019 survey results

Do you get paid time off at your job?
- Yes - 69.17%
- No - 30.83%

How much paid time off is your employer offering you this year?


Did you have leftover paid time off (vacation, sick time, etc.) last year?

- Yes - 60.70%
- No - 39.30%


How much of the paid time off you got last year did you not use?


What was the main reason you didn’t use all of your paid time off last year?

- I was saving it to carry over - 36.83%
- My workload - 16.29%
- I wasn’t sick enough to use all my sick time - 10.94%
- I felt like I needed to be in the office - 9.82%
- I forgot to take it - 6.03%
- I was trying to get a promotion - 5.13%
- I felt pressured not to take it - 4.46%
- I didn’t feel comfortable asking for time off - 3.35%
- We have a culture of not taking time off - 2.90%
- My manager wouldn’t approve it - 2.46%
- Other - 1.79%


Do you have unlimited paid time off for vacation?

- Yes - 16.12%
- No - 83.88%


How many vacation days did you take as part of the unlimited paid time off policy?

- 0 days - 5.88%
- 1-5 days - 33.61%
- 6-10 days - 28.57%
- 11-15 days - 14.29%
- 16-20 days - 5.88%
- 21-25 days - 4.20%
- 26-30 days - 3.36%
- 31-51+ days - 4.20%


How does your employer allocate paid time off?

- I accrue paid time off and can carry all my time over into the next year. - 33.74%
- I accrue paid time off and can carry some days over into the next year. - 27.91%
- I accrue paid time off and cannot carry days over into next year. - 16.26%
- I get an annual allowance up front and can carry all my time over into the next year. - 5.28%
- I get an annual allowance up front and can carry some days over into next year. - 4.47%
- I get an annual allowance and cannot carry over days into next year. - 10.70%
- Other - 1.63%


How long does it usually take for your paid time off request to be approved?

- Less than an hour - 19.65%
- A day - 33.88%
- A few days - 26.02%
- A week - 10.57%
- A few weeks - 5.83%
- A month - .95%
- A few months - .54%
- Longer than a few months - .41%
- My paid time off is not usually approved by the time I need the day off. - .54%
- I approve my own paid time off. - 1.63%


Have you worked (for example, checked your inbox) while taking paid time off in the past year?

- Yes - 52.17%
- No - 45.66%
- I don’t know - 2.17%


In the past year, I have:


Before the past year, I had:


Are you allowed to use sick time for mental health days?

- Yes, and we’re encouraged to use sick time that day. - 29.81%
- Yes, but we don’t tell human resources or other authority figures. - 21.00%
- No, but we use sick time for mental health days anyway. - 16.94%
- No, and there’s no way to use sick time for mental health. - 5.96%
- I don’t know. - 18.29%
- I do not get paid sick time. - 7.99%


Which of the following statements best applies to you?

- I am always honest with my manager about the reason why I need time off. - 68.02%
- I have misled my manager about the reason why I need time off. - 20.87%
- I never tell my manager the reason why I need time off. - 11.11%


What were you actually doing the occasion(s) when you misled your manager about the reason you needed time off?


Are there conflicts at work over taking time off for any of the following holidays?


Which of the following is most true of your workplace during popular times to take time off, such as spring break or Thanksgiving week?

- Someone gets their feelings hurt. - 3.39%
- Seniority rules for getting time off. - 16.80%
- No one is allowed to take that time off. - 5.01%
- Managers let employees decide who gets that time off. - 8.27%
- We use a luck-based method to decide who gets the time off. - 4.20%
- There are battles over who gets the time off. - 4.88%
- Employees call in sick if they didn’t get the day off. - 7.05%
- Everyone who wants the time off can get it. - 19.24%
- We have a fair way to decide who gets the time off. - 25.20%
- Other - 5.96%


Does your employer do any of the following?

How often do you go to work when you are sick?

- Never - 15.84%
- 1 day a year - 10.12%
- 2 days a year - 19.12%
- 3 days a year - 16.03%
- 4 days a year - 7.87%
- 5 days a year - 7.78%
- 6 days a year - 2.34%
- A week each year - 7.78%
- More than a week each year - 13.12%


How often do you experience work-related stress?

- I am always or almost always stressed about work. - 16.12%
- I am often stressed about work. - 26.52%
- I am sometimes stressed about work. - 36.83%
- I am rarely stressed about work. - 15.75%
- I am never or almost never stressed about work. - 4.78%


How would you describe your stress level at work?

- I would consider the amount of stress I experience at work unhealthy. - 43.77%
- I would consider the amount of stress I experience at work healthy. - 56.23%


Think about the biggest vacation you took using paid time off last year. Where did you go?

- “Staycation” at home - 24.27%
- Vacation somewhere else within my state - 17.15%
- Vacation in the U.S. outside my state - 31.40%
- Vacation in Canada, Mexico. Central America, or the Caribbean - 7.22%
- Vacation outside of North America - 6.28%
- I did not take a staycation or vacation with my paid time off - 3.75%
- I did not take a staycation because I did not get paid time off - 9.93%


Does your employer do any of the following?

Which of the following statements best applies to you?

- I do not get enough paid time off. - 50.14%
- I get the right amount of paid time off. - 48.08%
- I get too much paid time off. - 1.78%


Which of the following statements best applies to you?

- I would prefer to get a raise instead of more paid time off. - 76.10%
- I would prefer to get more paid time off instead of a raise. - 23.90%


If you were offered a job without any paid time off, what would you do?

- I would immediately accept the job. - 12.56%
- I would consider turning down the job but ultimately would accept the job. - 33.55%
- I would consider accepting the job but ultimately would turn down the job. - 24.65%
- I would immediately turn down the job. - 29.24%


Would you do any of the following to get more paid time off?


How important is it for employers to provide:


Which of the following best applies to you when you work overtime?

- I would always prefer time off (comp time) instead of getting overtime pay. - 14.71%
- I would usually prefer time off (comp time) instead of getting overtime pay. - 15.37%
- I would be equally fine with time off (comp time) or getting overtime pay. - 22.77%
- I would usually prefer overtime pay instead of time off (comp time). - 18.56%
- I would always prefer overtime pay instead of time off (comp time). - 10.78%
- I don’t qualify for overtime because I am a salaried or exempt worker. - 17.81%