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Houston expert shares how small business leaders can encourage PTO use

Retaining employees is no easy feat these days. Encouraging a healthy PTO policy can help avoid burnout. Photo courtesy of Joe Aker

As many small businesses continue to operate in a challenging, fast-paced environment, one thing that has arrived at breakneck speed is midyear, along with the summer months. Theoretically, to ensure work-life balance, most employees should have 50 percent of their PTO remaining to use for summer vacations and during the second half of the year. In reality, that is probably not the case given workers are hesitant to use their PTO, leaving approximately five days of unused PTO on the table during 2020 and 2021.

While the pandemic affected PTO usage the last two years, the labor shortage appears to be a major contributor in 2022, which has led to PTO hoarding and increasing levels of employee burnout. Although these factors can be compounded for small business owners because there are fewer employees to handle daily responsibilities, it is imperative for workers to take PTO, returning recharged with a fresh perspective on the tasks at hand.

Many employers might feel caught off guard by the amount of unused PTO that remains, but the good news is there is plenty of time to address the issue. Below are five ways for small business owners to help prevent PTO hoarding and encourage workers to take their allotted time off.

Remind your employees

Midyear is a good time to remind employees about the company’s PTO program, which is typically included in the employee handbook. Employers can share a link to the specific section of the handbook via email, along with key bullet points about the program that should be highlighted. For example, requirements to submit PTO requests in advance to help manage workloads, any blackout dates related to the nature of the business that can affect customer service and maximum number of hours that can be carried over into the new year to avoid losing any PTO hours. While employees are busy juggling numerous professional and personal responsibilities, it can be easy for them to overlook planning for PTO, so a quick reminder can make a big difference as employees and the company prepare for the remainder of 2022.

Leverage summer months

For some companies, the summer months present a great opportunity for workers to use PTO because business is typically slower, many clients also take time off and it might be easier to cover workloads. If leaders explain the situation to workers, they might be more inclined to schedule PTO because they feel encouraged to do so and there is less concern about leaving co-workers to handle heavy workloads. Leveraging the summer months for PTO can be a win-win for employees and the company, as operations continue smoothly and workers enjoy much-needed relaxation.

Stress the health benefits

Leaders should encourage employees to take time off by stressing the importance of taking care of their mental and physical health. A change of scenery away from work helps reduce stress, encourages relaxation and boosts adaptability, which can lead to greater creativity and innovative thinking. If workers do not take time to disconnect and recharge, it can result in low employee morale and decreased performance that may have a snowball effect involving co-workers, departments and family members.

Generate excitement

One way to encourage employees to use their PTO is to generate excitement by developing creative ways to inspire them to plan a getaway or other activities, which can have a positive impact and help prevent hoarding. For instance, organizing a contest on the intranet in which employees share how they used their time off, encouraging employees to vote on the most unique entries and rewarding the top three with gift cards. This activity might inspire others to break their routines and take time for themselves and their families by planning something special with their unused PTO hours.

Lead by example

Small business owners should lead by example and use their PTO hours to recharge, which also sends a clear message to employees that it is okay to take time off. While many owners may feel they cannot take time away from the office, it is critical for them to recharge, especially after two years of heightened stress levels and longer hours. According to a Capital One Business Survey of small business owners, 52% have not taken a vacation in the past year, 42% are currently experiencing burnout or have experienced it within the past month and 44% report having worked more than usual due to employee shortages. Owners who set an example are not only encouraging workers to do the same, but they are also taking care of themselves so they can be better positioned to operate their businesses for ongoing success.

As small business owners continue to navigate the labor shortage, savvy leaders recognize the significance of retaining existing employees, so it behooves them to encourage PTO usage to foster a highly engaged and energized workforce.

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Jill Chapman is a senior performance consultant with Insperity,a leading provider of human resources and business performance solutions.

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With the consumer price index rising 9.1 percent since last year, many Americans are evaluating new employment opportunities with better pay. However, employees would be wise to consider the risks of accepting a new position in the face of inflation and a possible recession, which could leave employers unable to sustain higher wages and generous benefits.

As a safer option in the longterm, employees may wish to ask for a raise from their current management, yet many do not know how to start the conversation. By understanding best practices for negotiations, employees can improve their chances of obtaining a pay raise without undermining relationships.

Understand the risks of job-hopping

Conventional wisdom suggests that job hopping can result in higher salary increases than an annual raise. During the pandemic, many employees took advantage of labor market shortages to secure new positions for higher pay. However, job hopping presents risks, particularly in an uncertain economic environment. Companies may institute “last in, first out” layoffs, leaving recent hires unemployed.

Even in strong economic conditions, job-hoppers face uncertain outcomes. When employees leave a company, they may leave behind teammates, mentors, client partnerships and friendships years in the making. These relationships can redevelop in a new organization, but employees may find themselves in an unfamiliar setting, facing unrealistic expectations or unexpected challenges that were not clear during the interview process.

Prepare ahead of time

Before approaching management with a request for a raise, employees should understand their own financial needs and how much additional compensation would improve their finances. If inflation has caused financial strain, employees should gather recent data on inflation, including the consumer price index, to share with management. The more information employees can offer about changing economic conditions, the more management will understand and accept their position.

Focus on the positive

Employees should begin a conversation about salary with praise for the organization and a reiteration of their commitment to the team. By beginning on a positive note, employees set the tone for a mutually productive conversation. Although employees may view salary negotiations as adversarial across the table, productive negotiations are a conversation with both employee and employer on the same team.

Likewise, while employees may worry about looking greedy, employees should not let that fear prevent them from opening the conversation. Employers also understand that employees work to meet their financial needs. While employers may face budget constraints or other considerations in salary allocation, strong management also recognizes the importance of nurturing growth among employees, both in compensation and job responsibilities.

Nonetheless, employees should focus the discussion on broader economic conditions like inflation, not on their personal budget items. By acknowledging the economic environment outside of the employer’s control, employees can then respectfully request their salary be adjusted for inflation.

Employees with a record of strong results can also gather data or performance reviews to demonstrate their contributions to the team beyond the expectations of their role. In doing so, employees can frame a salary increase as a celebratory recognition of the mutually successful partnership between employee and employer and an investment in the relationship.

Be flexible if negotiations stall

If employers decline to adjust an employee’s salary for inflation, employees should not give up on negotiating additional compensation or benefits. Rather than a pay raise, employees can ask for reimbursement for gas mileage or additional remote days to cut down on their commutes. If management declines a pay raise based on timing, employees can acknowledge that management may face budgetary constraints, remaining flexible but firm. For instance, a compromise may involve revisiting the discussion in three to six months.

As employees face record-breaking inflation, it remains critical to consider the risks of departing one role for another. By implementing best practices in salary negotiations, employees can secure a salary increase that matches inflation, avoid the uncertainty of job-hopping and invest in the future at their current company.

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Jill Chapman is a senior performance consultant with Insperity,a leading provider of human resources and business performance solutions.

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