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Young Workers Could Prompt Changes to Paid Time Off

A new generation of workers could upend traditional approaches to paid leave.

Traditional benefits of charging in the world infographic.

​The workplace is rapidly evolving, but companies’ approach to time off doesn’t seem to be keeping pace. For now, most employers are sticking to traditional approaches to paid leave. Policies continue to be structured around tenure, and when it comes to parental leave, women typically get more time off than men. However, all that could change as the number of Millennials in the workforce peaks and their influence grows.

About half of organizations use paid-time-off (PTO) plans. According to the new Paid Leave in the Workplace survey findings from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), roughly 9 out of 10 organizations with paid-time-off plans award leave based on length of service. Stand-alone paid vacation plans generally are structured the same way, with the number of paid days off increasing with workers’ tenure. However, an employee’s length of service seems to have little impact on his or her use of paid sick leave and personal leave plans.

The average number of paid days off per year provided in PTO plans ranges from 13 for employees who have been with a company for less than a year to 26 for workers who have been on the job for 20 years or longer. (By comparison, in organizations that do not base leave on tenure, full-time employees are eligible for an average of 18 days of paid leave per year.) Millennial employees may criticize service-based accruals, since these workers tend to change jobs more frequently compared with previous generations and thus find it difficult to build up the same time—and time off—in their positions.

Regarding time away for parents, mothers get an average of 41 paid days of maternity leave. That compares with 22 paid days of paternity leave for fathers. These policies will likely also come into question, given that such leave appears to be built around the assumption that women will take on most child care duties from the first weeks of parenthood. In reality, many 21st-century mothers and fathers want to share parenting responsibilities.

The SHRM survey found that few parents left any leave unused, suggesting that more time off would be welcome. On average, organizations reported that only 17 hours of maternity leave and 16 of paternity leave went untapped. Even fewer hours of adoption and surrogacy leave remained on the table.

As HR departments consider the shape of future policies, shifting demographics and employee demand for certain types of leave cannot be discounted. That’s why it is imperative to monitor employees’ satisfaction with benefits in general and paid leave specifically. Only by keeping tabs on what workers truly value—and how that may be changing over time—will HR professionals be able to lead their companies into the future.

[SHRM members-only resource: How to Develop and Administer Paid Leave Programs]

Jen Schramm is manager of the Workforce Trends program at SHRM.

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