Let’s assume that most companies’ intentions when implementing a
mandatory time off program are generally good.
In theory, mandatory time off promotes better work/life balance. It obliges
employees to take a break and recharge their batteries. The thinking is that by
doing so, employees come back fresh with new and improved focus on work. Subsequently,
they’re more productive, efficient, and engaged in their jobs.
Managers benefit too—knowing when employees will be out helps them better
plan for the long-term. Colleagues, especially those with less tenure, also
gain valuable experience when a co-worker is compelled to take time away—performing
new duties, and learning new skills.
The organization benefits from all of this, of course. And let’s be
honest: The company can also take this time to evaluate specific roles and
individuals and can get a lot of questions answered. Is this person’s job essential?
Are they carrying too much of the workload? Not enough? Do we need to hire
additional personnel for their department?
For better or worse, the coronavirus pandemic has forced companies
everywhere to give thought to the necessity of many positions. And the crisis
has left employees feeling tremendous stress and in need of a break. As such, some
organizations are implementing mandatory PTO, or are considering such a step.
On i4cp’s June 11, 2020 Total Rewards Leader COVID-19 Response series
call, rewards leaders from CoorsTek, F5 Networks, AdventHealth, OshKosh Corp.
and many others weighed the pros and cons of compelling employees to take time
‘A Lukewarm Reception’
Rena Freeman, VP of total rewards at AdventHealth, was among those on
the call. She noted that AdventHealth implemented temporary, mandatory PTO
usage for some employees over this summer, due to reduced volume of work.
It hasn’t been an unequivocal hit, she says.
“I would say that it’s been met with a lukewarm reception. People
understand that it’s for budgetary reasons. And we’re trying to avoid furloughs
by asking everyone to use their PTO time while [work] volumes are low. But the
good reasons behind it don’t necessarily make people like it. They accept it.”
Kelly Services, the Troy, Mich.-based office staffing company has
considered mandatory time off for employees but hasn’t yet done so.
Rather, Kelly is simply encouraging employees to take at least some time
off now, for some much-needed rest, says Stefanie Exline, the company’s
director of global mobility.
“The fear is that everyone will wait until December to use their
vacation time, when it’s a busy quarter for us,” says Exline, adding that Kelly’s
time off policy generally does not permit carry over of vacation days into the
next calendar year unless legally mandated.
A Matter of Employee Perception
Mandatory PTO creates other concerns. For example, some employees
simply won’t be thrilled about a requirement to use their vacation time during
a global pandemic that’s preventing them from going on an actual vacation.
Kelly Services recognizes as much. And, as part of the effort to
encourage employees to use vacation time during the pandemic, the HR team
periodically sends out companywide emails with employee-provided “what I did on
my staycation” stories of how they’re spending days off at home (or near their
homes) while travel continues to be restricted.
There’s much more to consider, of course. Managers will have to be
mindful of potential staffing issues and scheduling challenges, for example. And
your organization’s PTO program must comply with state and local regulations.
For example, some states legislate how employers must handle employees’ unused
paid time off at the end of the year or when employees leave the organization.
Such concerns can be addressed, though, and just underscore the
importance of working with legal to draft a well-written PTO policy, and the
need to track the usage of sick leave separately, in accordance to state and/or
Ultimately, how employees perceive the organization’s motives might be
the factor that you need to weigh most carefully when considering mandatory PTO,
says Mark Englizian, senior strategy advisor with i4cp, chair of i4cp’s Total
Rewards Board, and former global leader of total rewards at Amazon and CHRO at
“Some will see it as the company reducing its liability for accrued PTO
on the balance sheet. Others will see it was the company looking out for them,
making sure they take time to recharge after a long and intense period. My
counsel to anyone implementing mandatory PTO is to be honest with yourself and
be honest with your workforce.”