Requests for paid time off hit 4-year high, but approvals lag behind

Dive Brief:

  • Requests for paid time off hit a 4-year high in January, but approvals aren’t keeping pace, cloud-based HR platform BambooHR reported in a March 7 release.
  • On average, PTO requests have increased about 11% annually since 2019, according to data pulled from the global platform. More than a third of employees ask for PTO each month, yet less than half (49%) are getting approved, the data showed.
  • Employees also gave more performance reviews this January cycle than they did in January 2023, according to the findings. The data “tells me employees value work-life balance and direct feedback more than ever,” Bamboo’s HR Head Anita Grantham stated in the release. 

Dive Insight:

Employees may be changing their perspective about taking time off from work, after having been reluctant to do so in recent years, according to some studies.

In February 2023, for example, 39% of workers told Eagle Hill Consulting they hadn’t taken a vacation in 12 months, even though almost half reported feeling burned out. The rates remained constant in a survey Eagle Hill conducted several months later.

In both surveys, employees said expense and self-imposed pressure to stay on top of the job were the main factors keeping them from taking a fully unplugged vacation.

Remote workers are even less likely to take vacation time, according to an August 2023 report by Gusto. While remote workers may face less burnout, they may also feel less entitled to taking vacation time because they don’t have to be physically present in the office, Gusto suggested.

Those least likely to take time off are low-income employees: In both Eagle Hill surveys, almost 6 in 10 said they hadn’t done so in the last 12 months. Younger workers have also been shying away from time off — nearly half (46%) of Gen Z respondents told Eagle Hill they hadn’t taken a vacation in a year.

The numbers seem to be in line with BambooHR’s analysis, which found that employees in the restaurant/food & beverage industry — typically younger, low-wage earners facing notable financial challenges — ranked dead last for PTO requests, the platform’s data showed.

By contrast, in February, the finance industry had the highest proportion of PTO requests to employees, followed by nonprofits, according to the data. 

When employees take time off, they return energized and focused, which, in turn, benefits employers and customers, an exec previously said. Business leaders can set the example by taking time away themselves to fully unplug, the exec recommended.

Performance reviews also peaked this January, compared to last year, according to BambooHR. Although, this is the time when most employers have just completed their winter review cycle (November through January), the report noted. 

To prepare for the June/July review cycle, HR pros may want to consider developing a culture of continuous feedback, which can assuage unease about the process and get workers and managers on the same page about expectations and deliverables, experts have said. 

The workforce isn’t shy about asking for PTO or feedback, BambooHR’s Grantham said. “I think we’ll only see this trend continue, and organizations will have to increasingly embrace those values to attract the new generations entering the workforce,” she noted.