February 13, 2024
What is Discretionary Time Off? (DTO)
We’re in an age where new workplace terms are being thrown at us from all angles. One you might have heard ...
Curious how much PTO is normal for employees in the US? Whether you’re interested in how much PTO you’re supposed to get, or you’re gathering info for your own company’s PTO policy, this article has everything you need to know.
You’re going to learn that the US is seriously lagging behind when it comes to paid time off, one of the most important benefits for a large percentage of employees.
Keep reading to learn the average vacation days per year in the US and how this compares to paid holidays and paid time off around the world.
Private workers in the US get an average of 10 paid vacation days after 1 year of employment, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The average rises with length of service (time spent with the company). Employees with 5 years’ service average 15 vacation days per year, while those with 20 years of service average 20 vacation days per year.
Check out the data, broken down by service time, size of company and type of company (private vs government organizations) in the chart below:
As you can see, private industry workers generally receive slightly less paid vacation time than government workers, particularly prevalent for private industry employees in smaller companies and/or with less service time built up.
The average PTO can vary a lot by industry, as the following data shows.
A survey of 606 small business employees by Zenefits found that non-profit/foundation employees tend to get the most vacation days on average, while marketing, market research and public relations employees get the fewest.
Check out the findings below:
The same survey shows that the Northeast USA (Maine, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania) provides the highest number of vacation days on average, with 11.4 days per year.
The Midwest (Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana) and Southeast (West Virginia, DC, Carolinas, Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland) are joint-lowest with 8.5.
In terms of age, it’s probably no surprise that younger employees have fewer days of PTO on average. Employees aged 18-24 average 6.2 days per year, while those 65 and older have the highest average of 13 days per year.
There’s no federal requirement for US companies to offer paid time off to their employees. This makes the US one of the few countries around the world that doesn’t have PTO as a legally required employee benefit.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) covers some aspects of employee benefits and compensation, but this mainly extends to overtime and minimum wage, not paid vacation or PTO.
Paid time off is generally up to the employer and employee to agree upon. It’s only legally required if included in a signed employment agreement/contract.
Though they don’t legally have to provide PTO, most companies choose to do so.
BLS data shows the following averages, based on business size:
This shows that paid time off is the norm in America, likely due to demand from employees and the need for businesses to offer competitive benefits packages to retain their top talent.
The average number of paid holidays and vacation days available to workers in the US differs dramatically from almost every other developed nation.
Data from the Center for Economic Policy and Research shows the minimum number of paid vacation days (aka annual leave/PTO) and paid holidays (e.g. public holidays where employees are required to be paid as normal) for all OECD nations.
Europe leads the way in paid vacation days required by law.
France requires staff to receive a minimum 30 paid vacation days per year, as does Spain. The United Kingdom is next, with 28, while Austria, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Spain and Sweden all give 25.
Australia and New Zealand give staff a minimum of 20 working days off per year (not including public holidays), while Japan and Canada both offer 10.
The US is the lowest of all OECD countries in terms of statutory annual leave by law - as they are the only nation that doesn’t have any minimum requirements.
Elsewhere in the world, Brazil and Peru are both generous with PTO, giving workers a minimum of 30 days off per year.
Russia is close behind, with 28 days.
India and Pakistan are two countries who, along with the US, don’t have any legally required minimum for PTO. China, the Philippines (both 5), Mexico and Thailand (both 6) are some other notable countries with smaller than average allowances.
The US is the only country listed with no legal requirement for paid vacation days or paid public holidays.
Most US companies do offer paid vacation days, as we’ve established, despite not being required to by law. But even if we compare the average number of vacation days in the US (10 days per year) to the minimum legal requirement from the countries above, the US still falls well behind.
Here are a few more things you need to know about the state of paid time off in the USA.
Unused PTO is an epidemic in the USA. The average number of PTO days employees actually take declines each year, and over half of all Americans leave some of their paid vacation days on the table when the year ends.
Zenefits’ State of PTO survey found that 31% of respondents had PTO policies that carry over unused PTO to the following year.
This means it’s likely that a lot of people forfeit part of their earned benefits completely when they don’t take all their allotted PTO.
Guilt seems to be a big reason why people don’t take all their PTO. 39% of employees say they don’t take PTO because they feel guilty about the extra work it will create for their teammates.
A QuickBooks survey found that 52% of people reported having worked during time they’re supposed to be on PTO.
Nearly two-thirds of US employees are happy with the amount of PTO available to them. In Zenefits’ survey, 60% responded either “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their PTO allowance.
A further 21% were neutral, meaning only 19% responded that they are not happy with the amount of PTO on offer.
When it comes to which benefits employees value the most, PTO/paid vacation comes in 2nd.
Employer sponsored health insurance/healthcare is the most important benefit for 41% of people, while PTO comes in 2nd, as the most important benefit for 31% of employees.
In many countries, the minimum legal PTO requirement is generous enough that it makes sense for most companies to just comply with what the law says.
In the US, there’s no legal requirement, so it’s more difficult to know how much time off you should provide your employees.
By understanding how much vacation time is normal for US employees, you can get a basic understanding of what your PTO policy should look like.
But know that aiming for average is not necessarily the optimal approach. Offering more than average may help your employees be happier, healthier and more productive, as well as giving you advantages when it comes to hiring and retention.
One thing employers should take away from the data we have on PTO habits is that, even though you may provide employees with a certain number of paid vacation days, additional effort is required to ensure employees actually take all their PTO.
It’s often feelings of guilt and pressure that cause people to leave a lot of their available PTO on the table.
For example, with unlimited PTO policies, it’s not uncommon for employees to end up taking less PTO than average, due to unclear expectations and employees feeling more pressure not to take more than their fair share.
Conscious effort is required to set expectations with employees that taking PTO is not just accepted, but encouraged.
Employees who don’t take enough PTO are more likely to suffer from stress-related conditions such as burnout, or to have issues with poor mental health.
When this happens, it's impossible to expect employees to be fully productive. Their output drops, they may take more sick days, and they're more likely to become disengaged, dissatisfied, and eventually leave their job.
Paid vacation time is not just an empty promise you dangle to get people to accept your job offer. It's an investment in your team's health and wellbeing.
That's why many companies today use initiatives, like mandatory PTO or minimum vacation, to encourage employees to take more vacation time.
Whether you're looking for ways to track trends and boost average PTO usage in your business, or you're wondering how to allow more paid vacation without letting it interfere with productivity, Flamingo is here to help.
Flamingo is the easiest way for modern companies to manage paid time off. It makes the time off request and approval process easy, while automatically tracking all leaves (along with paid holidays, customizable by location), to make sure everyone stays in the loop and work still gets done when people take time off.
You can also track sick days/sick time, parental leave, personal days, and any other type of paid leave you provide for employees.
Flamingo saves time for business owners, department managers or HR professionals, while making your team more productive and allowing you to maintain a healthy work-life balance for your team.
Try Flamingo free today and see how it makes your team better.
Flamingo makes managing your team’s paid time off a breeze.