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Home Vacation PTO Hacks: The Strategy Behind Boosting Your Vacation Time – Your Money Briefing

PTO Hacks: The Strategy Behind Boosting Your Vacation Time – Your Money Briefing

by Staff

This transcript was prepared by a transcription service. This version may not be in its final form and may be updated.

J.R. Whalen: Here’s Your Money Briefing for Wednesday, January 10th. I’m J.R. Whalen for the Wall Street Journal. The average American worker who’s been with a company for five years gets 15 paid vacation days in a year, but with some careful planning, those 15 days can feel a lot longer.

Vanessa Furhmans: We have a lot of federal holidays to play with. If you do it just right, if you don’t have to share any of those days with other colleagues, you could have up to 50 days of extended break time plotting your vacation days just right.

J.R. Whalen: Vanessa Furhmans from the WSJs Careers and Workplace Team will join us after the break.
The new year means a new set of PTO or vacation days to take from work. Vanessa Furhmans is Deputy Bureau Chief of WSJs Careers and Workplace Team, and she joins me to discuss the importance of having a strategy behind choosing your time off. So Vanessa, we’ve been back at work for barely two weeks, why is it important that we talk about vacation days already?

Vanessa Furhmans: It just really pays to have a strategy. We only get so many vacation days a year, some of us more than others, of course, it’s very easy to let those days fritter away or you could take them and feel like you never really got away at all. And then you have colleagues who you might have to share vacation days with, so pays to get there early and start planning.

J.R. Whalen: What’s the average number of days people typically get?

Vanessa Furhmans: Compared to other countries or at least European countries, it’s not that much. For people who’ve had a bit of tenure at a company, say five years, it’s about 15 days, which is not bad, but it certainly isn’t a month. But with those even 15 days, you can plan a couple of really good breaks and also a few long weekends and the occasional personal days.

J.R. Whalen: So let’s talk about ways to capitalize on your paid time off or as some people in social media videos say, hack your PTO. First, nothing beats a week long vacation from work, right?

Vanessa Furhmans: No, I’ve come to learn in reporting this story and I thought I knew this already, but I realized I didn’t. At least a week long vacation is really essential. In fact, if you can, it’s really essential you do that at least two times a year, and by that I mean, five days bracketed by two weekends so that you really have a nine-day stretch and there’s a lot of science that backs up why you should take a little longer vacation. In terms of health benefits, we really don’t see the peak health benefits of taking time off until around the eighth day. In fact, a study that was published just this last year by researchers at the University of South Australia and Adelaide that showed that if you take at least a week long vacation, say one to two weeks, then the after effects, the positive benefits tend to last longer than if you took a vacation either for a shorter period amount of time or a longer amount of time.

J.R. Whalen: I don’t know anybody who can take two weeks off from work that… They’re pretty lucky.

Vanessa Furhmans: Yeah. Well, I think it’s a good goal to shoot for.

J.R. Whalen: So if somebody doesn’t take a week long vacation, one option could be maybe a long weekend, but there’s a conundrum there, which is do you take the Friday off or do you take the Monday off?

Vanessa Furhmans: Yeah, that was another thing I thought was interesting. In talking to some of the people I did for this story, and I would say they were people, not necessarily all scientists, but people who have thought about how to strategize this. There’s a really good case to be made for taking Mondays off. A lot of us think let’s start the weekend early, take the Friday off. You get to get going and all that much sooner. But Fridays after doing this reporting are kind of overrated. First of all, there’s a delayed gratification of taking the Monday off. So come Sunday night, you’ve still got another day off. Second of all, the cadence of the work week works in favor of taking the Monday off. If you take the Friday off, a lot of times you tend to then try to pack in the whole week’s worth of work Monday through Thursday, which leads to a bit of more stress leading up to the vacation. If you take the Monday off, chances are your colleagues have no choice but to start the work week without you, and then you jump into the fray.

J.R. Whalen: And by the way, why do people leave vacation days on the table? And I’m guilty as charged. I’ve gotten a lecture or two from bosses over the years for not taking all of my days off in a calendar year, and many companies don’t let workers carry them over.

Vanessa Furhmans: It has to do a lot with American work culture. We value FaceTime a lot. It’s this sort of ingrained belief that if we’re not taking all of our vacation days, somehow our bosses are going to see and recognize that we’re really dedicated to our jobs. And sometimes our jobs often make it very difficult to take vacation. A true vacation.

J.R. Whalen: Does taking time off actually result in more productive employees?

Vanessa Furhmans: There’s evidence to suggest at least it could be resulting in more successful employees. There’s actually a good number of studies that show that people who take more advantage of their vacation days actually are promoted and are more likely to receive raise, or promotion than people who take fewer of their vacation days.

J.R. Whalen: Okay, I’ll make a note to myself. Take those PTO. Now, a lot of companies give workers a full slate of federal holidays off. Usually that’s about 10 days. How can people work their vacation days into that scenario?

Vanessa Furhmans: You’ll see on the internet, there are a lot of hacks around showing how you can extend your limited number of vacation days by attacking them onto either before or after public holidays or bridging a public holiday with a weekend. You can really create, especially in 2024, the way federal holidays are placed, if you do it just right, if you don’t have to share any of those days with other colleagues, you could have up to 50 days of extended break time plotting your vacation days just right.

J.R. Whalen: And by sharing the days, you mean that you would have to sort of work out the time with another?

Vanessa Furhmans: Yes. Assuming you don’t have to take turns taking days around, say, Christmas or Thanksgiving or other coveted holidays off.

J.R. Whalen: Christmas is a good scenario in 2024 because Christmas falls on a Wednesday and people might load up on their days in the spring and the summer to enjoy the outdoors, but they really do have to keep track of the math and make sure they don’t lose count of their days if they want to use them later on in the year.

Vanessa Furhmans: The fact that Christmas falls on a Wednesday is probably a pretty good indication there. You may see a stampede of colleagues rushing to take those days around the holiday off. I can envision a lot of people wanting to take the whole week off or at least half of the week off.

J.R. Whalen: What are some of the biggest mistakes people make in mapping out or not properly mapping out their paid time off?

Vanessa Furhmans: People tend to actually hoard their vacation days. They wait. They want to make sure they have some time off at the end of the year, which is understandable given the holiday season, and they simply wait because the whole year is busy and they want to do it when things are slower, which is usually never, and then there’s a rush at the end of the year to use it or lose it. The common rule of thumb is that you should take your personal days first, regardless of what kind of day off you’re having. The reason is that should you suddenly be laid off or parting ways with your company for whatever reason, the personal days are not days you can claim as time off that is accrued to you, whereas vacation days that you haven’t used can be.

J.R. Whalen: That’s WSJs, Vanessa Furhmans. And that’s it for Your Money Briefing. We’ll be back tomorrow with WSJs Oyin Adedoyin to discuss how to deal with some of the glitches and technical issues with this year’s FAFSA. This episode was produced by Ariana Aspuru with supervising producer Melony Roy. I’m J.R. Whalen for the Wall Street Journal. Thanks for listening.

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