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Millennials Are 'Quiet Vacationing' Instead of Asking for PTO

TL;DR intro

  • PTO Avoidance:Many Millennials avoid formally requesting PTO and instead quietly take time off.
  • Unnotified Time Off:Nearly 40% of Millennials report taking time off without notifying their boss.
  • Unlimited PTO Paradox:Unlimited PTO policies often lead to less usage of time off due to workplace culture and workload pressures.

In a post-Covid turn of workplace behavior, many Millennials are opting for 'quiet vacationing' rather than formally asking for paid time off (PTO). A recent Harris Poll survey reveals that a significant portion of the U.S. workforce, particularly younger employees, is not utilizing their allotted PTO due to fears of being perceived as unproductive or slacking. But, which is worse? Using PTO or pretending you're not?

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According to the survey, 78% of U.S. workers do not take all their PTO days, with Gen Z and Millennials leading this trend. Libby Rodney, Chief Strategy Officer at The Harris Poll, notes that younger professionals often feel immense pressure to meet deadlines and maintain productivity, making them hesitant to request time off.

Interestingly, nearly 40% of Millennials admitted to taking time off without informing their managers. This tactic, dubbed 'quiet vacationing,' includes strategies like moving their mouse to appear active on company messaging platforms (e.g., Slack or Microsoft Teams) or scheduling emails to be sent outside regular work hours to give the impression of working overtime.

“There's a giant workaround culture at play,” Rodney explains. “While Gen Zers tend to be more vocal about needing time off, Millennials prefer to handle it discreetly.”

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The Drawbacks of Unlimited PTO

The concept of unlimited PTO, initially seen as a generous benefit, may ironically contribute to fewer days off. Workers with 11 to 15 days of PTO are more likely to use their days compared to those with 16 or more days. The lack of a defined limit creates a paradox where employees feel unsure about how much time they can reasonably take off without appearing uncommitted.

Rodney suggests several ways employers can create a more supportive PTO culture:

  • Be transparent about the PTO request process.
  • Normalize taking time off by leading by example.
  • Encourage and support employees in utilizing their PTO.
  • Mandate a minimum number of PTO days to ensure employees take regular breaks.

Employers can also introduce creative PTO benefits, such as company-wide shutdowns during major holidays, offering paid vacations before new hires start, or requiring quarterly PTO usage to prevent burnout.

Pressure and Workload as Barriers to PTO

The Harris Poll indicates that 83% of American workers are satisfied with their company's PTO policy, yet 78% do not use the maximum amount allowed. The primary barriers include the pressure to always be available and responsive (31%) and heavy workloads (30%). Moreover, 49% of employees feel nervous when requesting time off, fearing negative perceptions or missed career opportunities.

The survey also found that 86% of workers would check emails from their boss even during PTO, and 60% struggle to fully disconnect when taking time off. This constant connection highlights a workplace culture that glorifies being busy, with 85% of respondents agreeing that America has such a culture.


The Need for Cultural Change

For a healthier work environment, American workers are calling for a shift in workplace culture regarding PTO. A significant 76% wish their workplace placed more value on taking regular breaks. Striking a balance between work commitments and personal time off remains a challenge for 65% of workers.

Employers must address this by fostering a supportive PTO culture, emphasizing the importance of regular breaks, and ensuring employees feel comfortable and encouraged to take their well-earned time off.

In summary, while the concept of unlimited PTO and supportive policies exist, the execution and cultural acceptance lag behind. As Millennials and other workers navigate the pressures of modern work life, employers have an opportunity to reshape the narrative around taking time off, ensuring employees can recharge without the fear of negative repercussions. Will this ever change? Who knows.

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