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Your Next Killer Employee Experience App: PTO

October 26, 2021 Employee Experience
Mark Feffer
By Mark Feffer

As the true impact of COVID-19 became clear and businesses closed facilities and sent employees to work from home, both employers and the workforce began to see aspects of the employee experience in a new light.

Many office workers discovered they liked working from home and made it clear they wanted to continue doing it, at least part of the time. For the first time, consulting firm McKinsey said, an employee’s proximity to co-workers and customers became an area of managers' focus.

For their part, employees put more emphasis on flexibility and work-life balance than they had before. At the same time, more of them came out of the pandemic feeling like they wanted to make a change to their job, their career path or their skill set. “Many are rethinking what work means to them, how they are valued and how they spend their time," reported NPR

As a result of all this, a staggering number of employees quit their jobs to search for greener pastures. The U.S. Department of Labor said that in April 2021 alone, a record 4 million people gave up their position. Several studies indicated those departures aren’t all about money. For example, a report by the software firm Limeade found that “employees are emerging from the Great Resignation thinking differently not only about the way they are treated at work, but even about the way work is done.”  

Finding Employee Experience Opportunity in Neglected Areas

All of this has left employers facing several conundrums. For one thing, despite all of the workers jumping ship, businesses are struggling to find candidates for the jobs they’re leaving. That's not to mention the roles they must create to prepare for future growth. For another, executives are paying more attention to retention and their efforts to keep current employees on board.

“Businesses that have to consistently replace employees will find out sooner or later how severely high turnover crushes their bottom lines,” according to employee engagement platform TINYpulse.

All of this has led employers to scramble to find new ways to retain workers. Indeed, an entire industry has sprung up around ideas for employee engagement and employee experience, aiming to help employers make their workforce feel valued by their leaders and excited about their opportunities. Besides methods such as surveys, focus groups and in-the-moment feedback, employers are looking for ways to leverage any number of their employee perks and benefits.

Sometimes they find possibilities in the oddest areas.

Related Article: Employee Experiences That Employees Actually Want

Paid Time Off (PTO) as an Employee Experience Strategy

Take, for example, paid time off (PTO). At its most basic level, it’s largely expected to provide employees with a way to take time off for vacation, sick days and holidays without giving up compensation. To most companies, it’s a payroll and scheduling issue and little more. But maybe not for long.

Over the last several years, a handful of companies have appeared in the compensation arena with the idea of turning PTO into a benefit. In June, Tel Aviv-based Sorbet raised $21 million in a seed round. The company’s technology synchs with an employer’s calendars, HR and payroll systems. It then identifies habits and analyzes time-management patterns to suggest personalized, pre-approved three-to-six-hour "micro breaks," one-to-four-day "micro vacations" and longer vacations that fit an employee’s personal preferences.

Seattle-based PTO Exchange allows users to turn accrued vacation time into “assets” they can spend on retirement-plan contributions and charitable giving. PTO Genius, located in Miami, lets companies use and convert time off to help employees fund retirement, vacations or emergency expenses.  

“PTO is really not just about what it was like back in the day of, ’Oh, I have two weeks of vacation, I’m going to use it,’” said PTO Genius co-founder Adam Gordon. “It’s really more of an element to help acquire talent right now, but also to be able to increase productivity, profitability and help show that you want to become an employer of choice.”

Related Article: Want to Attract and Retain Talent? Consider Offering Remote Workers These Benefits

Battling Employee Burnout With Software

Recasting how employers look at PTO isn’t a purely financial concern, Gordon said. Often, products that leverage PTO are looking for ways to address employee stress and burnout. For example, he said, PTO Genius’s software is designed to help employers optimize, automate and “reimagine” paid time off “to help uncover hidden opportunities to really decrease burnout, reduce costs and improve employee loyalty.”

Burnout is a topic many companies need help addressing. “Some companies are having challenges. They don’t really talk about it, they don’t really encourage their managers to talk to their employees about it,” said Gordon’s co-founder Ulises Orozco. “They don’t check in about burnout. They don’t track burnout.”

Software platforms like these are meant to help companies use PTO in ways that help uncover hidden opportunities to boost employee experience, reduce costs, improve employee loyalty and combat burnout.

How do you link paid time off and burnout? To start, there’s the idea of getting workers out of the office so they have some sort of break. Companies like Sorbet, PTO Exchange and PTO Genius take the concept further by using software to encourage employees to take breaks or fund vacation time.

“We built a technology that identifies when employees are burned out,” Gordon said. “Companies don’t know at scale the best times to get employees out of the office. We build technology that helps surface those opportunities for people and nudge them to get away, which frees up time for HR and managers.”

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