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Vacations and PTO in 2022 and Beyond: What's Your Post - COVID Approach?

As an outgrowth of disruptions caused by the pandemic, employers and employees alike are exploring new ways to adapt daily work schedules, paid time off (PTO), vacation schedules, and workplace configurations to achieve a healthy work-life balance that pairs a reasonable life “rhythm” with stable or even improved productivity.

Travel, Vacations, Workcations, and “Leisurely” Remote Work

The volume of companies that adopted remote work policies during the pandemic has led to tectonic shifts in the ways employees define their workspace (geographically and otherwise). If employees are completing their projects/tasks on schedule and sustaining high-quality work, employers are increasingly amenable to ditching traditional office policies that were once “sacrosanct.”

As just one example, companies that permit flexible scheduling may see an employee depart mid-week for a “bleisure” trip during which the employee works remotely from a popular travel destination (Hawaii, let’s say), relying on high-quality WiFi to remain accessible and productive during the work week, while spending evenings and weekends in a more leisurely way. At the conclusion of this bleisure trip, the employee may even utilize explicit paid time off (PTO) to enjoy the location for several additional days without work responsibilities.

Although many company leaders may resist granting employees this degree of flexibility, we point to some of the data we explored in our related article on switching to a remote or hybrid workplace. Namely, an expansive, longitudinal study on remote work productivity conducted by Great Place to Work found a 3-13% increase in productivity among over 700 companies representing more than 3 million U.S. employees over a six-month period.

Although the data on productivity in the more specialized context of “bleisurely” remote work is an emergent area of study, a study by the University of East London shows that 61% of employees reported increased productivity following a “bleisure” trip, with 36% reporting that they elected to extend their remote work period to include PTO following the trip. 

Whether your company decides to permit forms of remote work that resemble “digital nomadism” or adopt a more traditional approach with PTO as the sole or primary form of travel allowance, we recommend providing resources to employees to help them improve productivity and work-leisure “compartmentalization” when working remotely from home, during a “workcation,” or during a bleisure trip. Regardless, bear in mind that many new job seekers have some expectation of remote or hybrid-at-will work options that would permit workcations, bleisure trips, and collaborating or communicating on “global time,” when necessary. 

Updating Vacation and PTO Policies 

Since the first full year of the pandemic, many companies have adopted more flexible and accommodating PTO policies for employees. In response to specific challenges caused by the pandemic, some companies have permitted employees to transfer unused PTO for compensation, especially in the event of any changes to family income. The most popular and recruitment-oriented PTO policy is untracked or unlimited PTO, which sometimes replaces a company vacation policy altogether. In actuality, unlimited PTO is a misnomer, in that companies still set reasonable expectations and ceilings on the total number of days that can be utilized by an employee.

Generally speaking, if an employee’s job performance is on track, no conversation regarding potential abuse of unlimited PTO privileges is necessary, but most employers reserve the right to intervene if PTO overuse becomes a clear impediment to productivity, project timelines, or fulfillment of client requests. 

Interestingly, it appears that unlimited PTO policies can more frequently lead to underutilization rather than overutilization. For this reason, some companies that have adopted unlimited PTO policies as a demonstration of trust to their employees have “amended” their policies to mandate that all employees take a minimum number of PTO days annually (usually 14-15 days), which includes a sustained break lasting at least one full work week.

This amended approach is designed to prevent burnout and the sporadic use of PTO days that don’t provide a lengthy break in work responsibilities for the employee. Especially following the stress of the pandemic, more employers are recognizing the importance of mental health breaks for employees who may be inclined – especially at home – to work around the clock or struggle to delineate work and leisure boundaries.

Unique Adaptations and Developments: Retreats & Getaways

Companies are using remote work, unlimited PTO, PTO “banks” (sick and vacation combined), and permissions for flexible scheduling as hiring and retention tools that demonstrate a commitment to employee wellness. These efforts are also meant to increase the “total rewards” appeal to new and existing employees and can be particularly useful for startups and smaller businesses that are seeking to attract top talent, in part, with non-monetary incentives.

Another tool that companies are using to enhance vacation and PTO benefits, as well as company camaraderie, is company getaways. Company retreats have been shown to strengthen company culture, improve long-term cohesion/collaboration among employees, catalyze creativity, and counteract the effects of prolonged periods of employee isolation occasioned by the pandemic.

By encouraging face-to-face interaction and socialization while reducing incidents of burnout, employers are improving operations and company morale through traditional in-person retreats, particularly when they can be hosted at an appealing or vacation-like locale.

Offering retreats or getaways is an appealing option for companies that would prefer to offer traditional PTO or PTO banks rather than unlimited PTO. It’s an alternative leisure incentive that has the added benefit of providing concrete value to long-term business operations, staff collaboration, and productivity.

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