PTO is a Privilege. Use It.
The data is out there: PTO is good for you, and there are so many reasons why (and why working women tend to take less time than their male counterparts). Taking time off improves your productivity upon your return to the office. One study even showed that “workers who used their vacation days were more likely to be promoted than those who forfeited them.” However, depending on your circumstances, not everyone gets the same PTO benefits or opportunities.
I conducted an (informal) poll of my friends on Facebook, and found that those who responded fell into one of two categories: they either used all their PTO, or they struggled to take any time off at all. People who use all their PTO (and I’m including myself in that camp), tend to do so in order to:
Help take care of and/or support close friends and family
Check items off the to-do list, with the promise to take vacation later
Attend special events, like weddings and baby showers, for family and friends
Have a physical or mental health day
Explore new places during pre-planned vacations
Travel the world, because they never want to look back wishing they had
I am fortunate that I get to choose how I spend my PTO, and I frequently spend it on two things: travel and connecting with friends or family. When I can combine the two, I’ll never turn the opportunity down. This is why my most recent use of vacation time included over 20 hours of flights (each way) for only five days in Dubai, UAE and Kolkata, India. I travelled across the world to help celebrate a friend’s wedding, and I didn’t think twice about using my time off to do it. To be there for a friend, see a new part of the world, and experience two new countries was a no-brainer. But time to travel is a privilege.
Many other countries have more than the 10 standard U.S. Federal holidays. The U.K., France, Spain, and Germany all have over 30 each. According to Statista, “The U.S. remains the only advanced economy that doesn't guarantee paid vacation.” Many of those that responded to my informal poll, noted having to make up the difference (if even allowed) by…
Working flexible hours and getting in extra hours throughout the rest of the week.
Working remotely or from home, if their job and company can support it.
Taking advantage of existing holidays and overlapping vacation time with those.
I am privileged to be able to travel like I do. It is something that most of the world cannot take advantage of. Regardless, I am also the first to tell you that travel is absolutely worth pursuing. Seeing my friend get married in his home country, taking the tour of the city from a local, and learning to negotiate in foreign markets through Google translate were all experiences I would never give back. I won’t tell you that travel helped me “find myself,” but travel did improve the person I am and the professional I am becoming. In fact, the first piece I ever wrote for Babes Who Hustle was about “How Traveling Changed My Hustle.” Travel inspires me and challenges me in ways that I can’t be inspired or challenged from the comfort of my day-to-day life. Every year I have the inevitable travel goal section listed in my yearly goals, and I use my annual allotment of Paid Time Off (PTO) to make it happen.
The fact that I have both the luxury of time and financial ability to travel across the world is worth noting. Because, while most people I polled (like me) fell into the bucket of “I use all my PTO; every year,” the reasons varied - and some even surprised me. Those that do end up using all of their PTO, didn’t always use it for fun, they also used it up because…
They hated their job and took every allotted day out of the office that they could afford.
PTO is a luxury that they didn’t have at their last job, and they were reckless when they got it.
Their company doesn’t rollover vacation days to the next year; it’s use it or lose it.
They ran out of vacation days once all the special events for family and friends are booked.
They got sick too often, and their company takes sick days and vacation out of the same pot.
Other friends responded that they struggled to take any vacation days at all. According to another article, “28 million Americans don't get any paid vacation or paid holidays,” and according to my Facebook friends, the struggle to take days off is real, because…
The vacation they do get is impossible to use, since they don’t get paid when they take it.
Their job is too demanding, and they’re pressured by toxic corporate culture not to take their PTO.
They have so few allotted days and need to stockpile a safety net just in case of future emergencies.
They are freelance or self-employed and have no one to cover them if they’re out of the office.
Coworkers and bosses still call them while they’re on vacation, and they end up working instead.
Maternity leave is looked at like vacation at their work, making actual vacation hard to take later.
At the end of the day, my vacation travels have taught me that if you have PTO, you are luckier than most. Make use of it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of what other people think of your choice to use it, or how you use it - using it is what matters. Find the right balance of personal days, mental health days, errand running, being with friends and family, and travel. Make sure you’re working in, and supporting, an office culture that values work-life integration and balance. Pay it forward when someone covers for you when you’re out, and make sure those around you get coverage too. We may not live in a perfect PTO world, but we can make the most of what we do have now. So, set that Out of Office email, shut down your company phone, disconnect from your work laptop, and just go!
Hillary works as a Senior Strategy Consultant at IBM. She found her passion for her new job in the two years she took off work to pursue a full-time, Global MBA degree at George Washington University in Washington DC. She is driven by her constant curiosity and her truest love is for travel and adventure. Having moved to California in early 2019, outside work you can find her planning her next trip, exploring her local beaches, reading a book, or wandering along a new hiking trail.