How Many Employees Actually Use All of Their PTO?

There's a growing trend in America, a trend that has more employers dispensing with the old way of giving employees time off in favor of a new PTO model. That's good. But there is another trend that's not so good: employees are not using all of the time they are eligible for. Far too many are leaving unused days on the table.

For the record, PTO (paid time off) is a model that gives employees a certain number of paid days off per year. Employees can use them in any way they see fit. PTO offers vacation time, sick days, and personal days in one cumulative package. Many PTO models also include a short list of paid holidays.

Under a more traditional model, paid time off is separated into categories. An employee might get 14 days of vacation time, five sick days, and three personal days. The understanding is that he/she will not use sick days to attend to personal business. It doesn't work that way in reality though, which is why so many companies are turning to the PTO model.


How the U.S. Stacks Up

It is interesting to note that the U.S. lags behind most of the rest of the Western world in PTO. According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) U.S. workers receive an average of 14 days off per year. In Spain, workers are given a minimum of 22 paid vacation. They also enjoy 14 paid public holidays.

In terms of how much Americans actually use, we lag behind there as well. According to data from The Motley Fool, roughly 47% of all employees eligible for PTO don't use all of the time they are given. That's an improvement over the 68% figure cited by the OECD back in 2016.

The other thing to consider is that the U.S. is the only developed nation in the world that does not mandate PTO. Employers are not required to pay workers for vacation time, sick days, or personal days. This reality may be one of the reasons American workers don't use all the time offered them.


A Different Work Environment

So why are things so drastically different here in the U.S.? Because our work environment is different. America is a country born of the 'pull yourself up by your bootstraps' mentality. Work has always been valued here. As a society, we generally adhere to the principle that hard work pays off.

Today, some 40% of all U.S. workers put in more than 50 hours per week. Some 20% work more than 60 hours. What's more, there is an underlying assumption among the American workforce that suggests one cannot get ahead just working a 40-hour week. People have been conditioned to believe that advancing their careers requires routinely putting in 50- and 60-hour work weeks.

In some cases, management creates an environment in which workers are afraid to take their PTO. Some workers feel like their jobs will be the first ones on the chopping block if they are more willing to use their PTO than others. Some workers feel like taking all their PTO jeopardizes their chances of getting a promotion. Still others face open hostility from management when they take personal or sick days.

PTO is a particularly good benefit to offer employees. But if employees aren't using it, how much good does it really do? It is up to employers to figure out why workers are not using their time and take remedial action to correct the situation. Otherwise, PTO is meaningless.



  1. OECD –
  2. The Motley Fool –