Company Paid Time Off (PTO) and Vacation Benefits

It’s midsummer and that means my annual family vacation is approaching.  With vacation on my mind and thoughts of kayaking, swimming, fishing and good food a near constant, I thought I would let my thoughts lead my blog post this week and address company paid time off  (PTO) and vacation benefits.  The business world accounts for and treats PTO and vacation very differently than the military.  Below are answers to some common questions junior military officers (JMOs) ask about this particular benefit.

1.  What is PTO or Paid Time Off?  In the last decade most companies transitioned to a comprehensive plan for time away from work, with vacation as one aspect.  There are several components to PTO.  Company holidays are days when the company is closed. These  include Christmas Day, Thanksgiving, July 4th, Labor Day and a few more.  Floating holidays are different from company holidays, allowing the choice of taking a few additional days away from work while the company remains open.  Some examples of floating holidays are President’s Day, Good Friday, Martin Luther King Day, and typically you can only choose 2  or 3 of these.  Personal days are like vacation days and I am not sure why companies don’t  just lump them in with vacation days.  They are to be used for such things as funerals, staying home with a sick child, and studying for a master’s or trade exam, but I have heard people use them for vacation as well.  There are sick days which are to be used for exactly that, and  finally vacation days, for what I will be doing soon – relaxing and recharging. 

2.  How much PTO can I expect?  This will vary from company to company and depend on the number of years you have had with a company.  For company holidays I commonly see 8 days, and most companies offer 3 floating holidays.  For personal days, I mostly see about 3 to 5; and generally I see 5 sick days, though I have seen as many as 10.    As vacation, most companies will offer 2 weeks  for your first year, meaning 10 working days, though some may consider a JMO as an industry experienced hire and offer 3 weeks.  I know only a few of our clients who offer less than 1 week of vacation in the first year.   If you total up my averages, you get roughly 30 days a year which is about what the military offers a JMO. 

3.  If I take one week of vacation is that 5 days of vacation or 9?  In business, if you take Monday through Friday off , but you leave home on Saturday morning and return the following Sunday – gone for a total of 9 days – your company will only consider Monday through Friday as vacation.  This will be 5 days, and not 9 as  in the military. 

4.  How far in advance can I plan for vacation?  My experience has been as far as you want, and I hear the same thing from Cameron-Brooks’ alumni.  This is a major difference between the business world and the military.  You can plan for and expect to take your full time off.  In my ten years in business, I have never heard of one of our alumni having vacation plans canceled by their company. 

5.  Do I get to take all of my vacation?  I highly recommend you take all of your vacation, floating holidays and personal days.  You earned them, and if you don’t take them no one else will.  Also, there have been numerous studies done that prove taking time off from work makes people more productive in the long run.   I’ll do a self-study for you on my upcoming vacation and let you know if that’s true. 

6.  What do I do with my sick days if I don’t need them?  I am a believer in using sick days for exactly what they are intended – being sick.  So, if you are not sick or your kids are not sick, don’t take them.  An added benefit of not taking sick days in some companies is that they roll over to the next year.  Therefore, if you truly do get sick and need to be out for an extended period of time, you have those extra days.  I never like it when people call in sick and are actually doing something else.  You want your company to be fair and honest with you on issues, you need to be the same with them. 

Once again, I have not seen any company Paid Time Off program that is exactly the same as another, but most are similar.  This is just a brief primer and not in any way an extensive explanation.  There is really no way to compare details unless you are evaluating a specific Paid Time Off program .

One final point, I highly, highly, encourage you not to make a decision on a company/career opportunity based on their Paid Time Off program.  The nature of the work, position, career field, industry and company quality should always be the main factors in making a career decision.  If I had used Paid Time Off as a criteria in accepting Cameron-Brooks, I am quite sure I would have declined.  However, I am passionate about my career and role at Cameron-Brooks and I do get enough time off to spend time with my spouse and children, see extended family, travel to see interesting parts of the country and re-energize. 

Joel Junker