How your PTO policy can help create a culture of health and wellbeing

Employee health and wellbeing is a hot topic these days in workplaces across the nation. Ultimately, employers want their employees to be healthy, engaged, and productive. Not only does this make the workplace more pleasant, but it helps keep health care and employer costs down.

There are numerous aspects to consider when looking at employee’s health and wellbeing. Many companies have tackled it by implementing workplace wellness programs. These programs can be and have been successful, but it may be only one piece of the puzzle. Culture is often the missing piece.

Workplace culture is critical when considering employee health and wellbeing. Ultimately, you want to create a “culture of health and well-being.” So, what does that mean and how do you do it? How does an employer have an impact on the health and well-being of its individual employees?

How you package and deliver your PTO matters

One way to influence the company culture is to demonstrate that you value your employees and their personal needs through your paid time off (PTO) policies. Today’s employees face significant demands. Many are part of the ”sandwich generation” and are taking care of children and elderly parents in addition to their careers.

Paid time off can be defined in a variety of ways. Vacation, sick, and holiday tend to be the most common types of paid time off offered by employers. How these benefits are packaged and delivered may have the most impact on employees’ health and wellbeing.

Throughout my career, I have seen PTO packaged in a few different ways, and most often it encompasses vacation and sick time. Employers either offer one bucket that combines sick time with general PTO, or it is split into two different buckets of sick and general PTO (vacation).



One-bucket approach can have unintended consequences

The one bucket approach seems the most logical at face value. You have one bucket to keep track of and manage policies around. It may also be more cost effective for your organization. However, some unintended consequences may arise that could end up being more costly in the long run.

Employees may forgo using their PTO when they are ill so they have more time to take as vacation. An employee coming into work when ill can have a negative impact on their own health as well as those around them. Their recovery may be delayed and they may be more susceptible to other illnesses because they are not taking care of themselves. Other colleagues are also exposed to the illness resulting in more people being sick. Either way, the company’s productivity and morale are likely to suffer when employees are not well.

Those in the sandwich generation mentioned earlier may experience added stress by having to use the majority of their PTO to stay home and care for ill children or their elderly parents. They will likely have little PTO left to take care of themselves.

Advantages of the two-bucket approach

Employers who choose to have a separate bucket for sick time may pay more up front for the actual cost of the time off, but they will reap bigger rewards in the end. Having separate sick paid time off for your employees allows them greater flexibility to manage their own health and wellbeing, as well as the health of their loved ones. They are also less likely to show up to work when they are really ill, which will be better for their own health and that of their colleagues. It also affords them the ability to take family members to their medical appointments or be with them when they are hospitalized, without needing to take from their vacation time. Flexibility when managing PTO often results in more loyal and productive employees.

Make the most of your PTO policy

There are other ways that paid time off and flexibility can improve your workplace culture and positively impact your employees and company. Some changes may take more effort than others, but it is important to consider what is most important to your employees.

Our personal values tend to be what drive us as individuals. Obviously, it is not possible to pinpoint and respond to each person’s values, but there are ways that you can accomplish this with a broader brush. Here are some ideas:

  • Volunteer time off (VTO). More and more companies are adding VTO to their benefits package. This tends to benefit the individuals as they are able to help others and do meaningful work in their community. Additionally, it can help employers by promoting team building and showing support for their community.
  • Birthdays as paid holidays. Making employees’ birthdays paid holidays demonstrates that you value their individuality, while everyone in the company receives the benefit.
  • Clear and consistent communication. If you decide to implement changes, or already have them in place, it is important to communicate the reasons behind them. Let your employees know that you value them and care about their wellbeing.

How you structure your paid time off can really have an impact on your employees’ physical and mental health. Making changes to your benefits and policies obviously does not guarantee you will have healthy employees, but it just might have a significant impact over time.

Nichole Keltgen is a wellness consultant at Associated Financial Group.

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