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Why Is PTO Still A Damn Nightmare?

Is it just me? Am I the only one who thinks this is madness? Maybe you work for a company that holds tight to archaic vacation and sick time programs. How's that working for you? Annoying?

A key element required of the modern workplace is the ability for workers to be able accommodate both their work and home responsibilities. Employees need the ability to take time from work--without penalty or judgement--get stuff done. And they should be trusted like the grown-ups that they are to do this.

What drives me bonkers are POLICIES (i.e., banked sick time paid out later) or ATTITUDES (i.e., I don't believe you're sick) that encourage employees to come in sick. Where's the sense in that?

[You know what? "I got an eye problem. I can't see coming into work today." That's legit. Get over it.]

What about TARDY policies encouraging people to drive like maniacs to avoid being 30 seconds late. And when they do arrive late, they slink off back home to call in sick. Because, you know, the system is set up so it's better to NOT SHOW UP AT ALL RATHER THAN BE LATE. Wait, what?

The point is, companies that hold tight to these silly practices will lose out in the end. Fewer workers will put up with that monkey business. They'll choose to take their talents elsewhere.

Here's the original post that set me off:

Vincent Price would LOVE our sick and vacation policies…

If the C-Suite is still pushing back on keeping archaic vacation and sick programs, you need to quit that organization. Pronto. Seriously, great HR pros, you need to contemplate quitting organizations that won’t change. Let’s create a supply-and-demand revolution.

I have the privilege of attending a great HR executive networking group. Once a month about 12 of us, from a variety of organizations (banking to manufacturing to tech to startup), get together and talk about HR stuff. We have great conversations (and de facto counseling sessions) where we share ideas, ask for help, the whole schmear.

Someone offhandedly asked how many of us had moved from a sick and vacation policy to a comprehensive “Paid Time Off” (PTO) policy. This is important, but unsexy stuff. Funny thing though… this unsexy topic had LEGS.

Why? It became clear what should be a simple benefit is often confusing, archaic and counter-intuitive. I walked away from the conversation very cognizant of the fact that organizations are missing the mark so broadly on this it is distressing.

So here is what I think. And BIG disclaimer, none of this is verbatim from any members of the executive networking group nor is this representative of any of those group members’ thoughts. These are mine alone.

What Makes PTO A Damn Nightmare

I realize every company’s sick, vacation, and PTO policies will be nuanced to fit that organization’s needs. This includes financial. But, friends, companies have been getting away with crazy vacation policies without ever having to explain why. So….my take:

—The purpose of any PTO, vacation, or sick time is to easily allow employees the necessary time to rest, get well, or not-do-a-damn-thing. Not-do-a-damn-thing can include staring out the window, binge-watching Netflix, or baking muffins all day. Many companies are still missing this mark.

—Employees should easily be able to take time off without fear, retribution, or judgement if your “boss” doesn’t agree you should make muffins all day instead of “work the line”.

—If executives can’t tell you the sick and vacation philosophy, the “why” they offer this benefit, there is trouble in river city. Or if the “why” is, it’s been that way for the last 40 years, it may be time to order that second cocktail this evening.

—If your company has separate sick and vacation “banks” as opposed to one PTO “bank”, consider quitting that organization. This is an indication your organization is too controlling for the modern worker and not a fan of efficiency. In a nutshell, this organization doesn’t trust the workers to manage their own time off and doesn’t care that administration is heavy. Sounds like a great place to work…

–A synonym for accrual is “Lucifer”. Aren’t PTO “accruals” like a punch in the face? How many of you can easily explain to an employee how the accruals actually work? If you can’t explain the accrual process to a new employee, something is awry. Also, if your company uses a “true accrual” system (like you get 4 hours a month) – your company stinks! Hope you never get sick, get in a wreck, or need to go to your kid’s kindergarten graduation. Quit now!

—Having separate sick vs vacation “banks” is a not-so-subtle way for leaders to demonstrate they are in control of employees. Does this sound familiar? “So tell me again why you took sick time” or “You’ll need to prove to me that you were really out for the stomach bug” or “I saw you liked a picture on Facebook while you were ‘sick’…” Enough already.

–What about “sick-time” roll-overs? Many organizations allow unlimited amounts of unused sick-time to roll-over to the next year. Pretty sweet, but one PTO bank is still better. Typically only a measly amount of that sick “bank” will be paid out at termination and this benefit could encourage people to come into work sick. And if you are generous enough to pay out a good portion of that sick time bank, your non-exempts get a royal case of the ol’ in-out, in-out. Because even well-intended exempt folks forget to record that sick time, therefore over inflating their sick-bank. Yikes!

–If your company has separate sick/vacation policies for exempt vs non-exempt or more importantly for “office” vs “production” — quit this organization now. This is class-ism at its worst.

This Is The Way To Make PTO Dreamy:

  • When creating your “policy” make the “why” to help employees more than “controlling costs”.

  • Make your policy for the “rule” not the exception. Most employees don’t want to abuse this policy.

  • Have one annual PTO bank as opposed to sick vs vacation. Minimum 3 weeks-worth.

  • Allow employees to have access to their entire bank from day 1. No accruals.

  • Have the same policy for all levels of employee.

  • Let managers control their PTO approval process.

  • Let HR put together parameters regarding sick-time. There are FMLA implications, so HR guidance is a fair request.

  • You can allow for roll-over, but cap it.

Paid Time Off is much more than a check the box item. The speed of work is crippling and burnout is prevalent. Help your folks understand the dreamy and don’t give into the nightmare. If your C-Suite won’t listen, time to start your new adventure somewhere else.

Original post, Why Is PTO Still A Damn Nightmare?, written by Dawn Burke, first appeared at Fistful of Talent on September 13, 2017

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