Why Paid Time Off (PTO) Should Be Incorporated into Project Planning

Man enjoying his paid time off (PTO)

How to Incorporate PTO into Project Planning


For every employee dreaming of sandy beaches, sunny city trips, and al fresco dinners, there’s a project manager worrying about the impact PTO will have on their project. While vacations are a time for us to switch off, recharge the batteries and enjoy the good things life has to offer, businesses need to be realistic about how PTO can affect project progress and the bottom line. Yet, that doesn’t mean restricting how many days employees can take off each year. Careful planning can mitigate the impact vacations have on productivity and profitability while keeping your team happy and motivated.

What is PTO planning?

PTO, or paid time off, covers any type of leave that is paid, including vacation time, sick leave, and personal days. In the US, PTO is accumulated over time, and time off for all of the above reasons comes from one pot. That means employees have a set number of hours or days to use for PTO, though different businesses may implement different plans.

There are many benefits to offering a good PTO plan, but organizing projects around absences can be a minefield. That’s where PTO planning comes in. PTO planning is focused on putting systems in place to manage planned and unplanned absences effectively, allowing employees to take time off whilst keeping projects moving forward without disruption. 

It’s important to remember that there are several other types of leave employees may take. These include medical leave, leave following a bereavement, and parental leave, either paid or unpaid, depending on your company’s policies.

Why you should consider PTO when project planning

Everyone needs to take the occasional break for their mental health and physical well-being. However, some businesses continue to struggle to justify the cost of paying employees for time not worked, meaning PTO can be fairly limited.

Luckily, good project planning that incorporates PTO means neither the business nor its employees need to suffer — it’s the best of both worlds! Here are five reasons why you should consider PTO when project planning:

It keeps projects moving forward

Whether it's the scrum master, a junior software engineer, or the business’s managing director who is jetting off into the sunset, your project shouldn’t grind to a halt because of absences. You can reduce the impact PTO has on project progress by encouraging team members to book time off for vacations well in advance, giving you time to plan around them. That can include reallocating workload within the team or getting external support. Planning for sick leave or last-minute PTO requests can be more challenging, but having backup plans in place can prevent an absence from becoming a catastrophe.

Prioritizing employee morale benefits everyone

According to research by U.S. Travel Association, 41% of Americans don’t take all of their PTO. There are a few reasons for this, but a large contributing factor is business culture. If employees are discouraged from taking time off because of the negative impact it could have on their work and the business then their well-being is not being prioritized.

Allowing employees to take PTO without feeling like the world will crash down around them is a must for any future-minded company. Plan ahead so that your teammates can be excited about their trip to Mexico or call out sick without being concerned about their reputation. Creating an environment in which employees can prioritize themselves will go a long way to boosting morale and creating a happier, more productive work environment.

Planning for the unexpected makes you more agile 

Unexpected leave can be trickier to plan for because it is, well, unexpected. Sickness and emergencies are unavoidable and should be taken into consideration during project planning.

Having a contingency plan that outlines how workload will be reallocated when an employee is taken unexpectedly sick or needs time off for a personal matter means you’ll be able to swiftly switch up the project’s resourcing without a ball being dropped.

It encourages everyone to take their leave

We’ll repeat it because it’s important: 41% of Americans don’t take all of their PTO. A 2018 study revealed workers in the US didn’t use a huge 768 million days of paid time off.

Taking time off is necessary for our mental and physical health. The days are there to be used, and employees should be encouraged to make the most of the benefits they’re entitled to.

Planning ahead for leave ensures that all team members take the vacation time they’re entitled to. Not just one or two employees while the others muddle through — all of them.

How planning for PTO can benefit your projects

Having every member of your team take all the leave they’re entitled to may sound pretty idealistic. After all, how can we encourage employees to down tools when there are projects on the line? Here are two significant benefits to your projects that are worth taking into consideration.

Reduced risk of burnout

Spending too much time working can lead to burnout. Not taking substantial breaks from work, i.e., more than two days, can also lead to burnout. This buzzword has been increasing in popularity over the last few years as employees become more aware of the consequences of working too much and not taking enough time for themselves.

When we feel burnt out, we are less productive. A recent study by WHO found that anxiety and depression, which are often triggered by workplace stress, cost the global workforce around $1 trillion each year in lost productivity.

Protecting your team from burnout by planning for PTO means that when they are at their desks, they’ll be more engaged, and your projects will be more successful.

The team is motivated and inspired

It’s the responsibility of the team leader to create a work environment that is inspiring, collaborative, and motivating. That means allowing time off when needed and wanted. After all, happiness leads to higher levels of productivity and motivation, as revealed by Warwick University in 2021. Plus, multiple studies have shown that employees who take more vacation time do better work and are more productive. 

How to plan for PTO

PTO planning is a sure-fire way to make sure your projects run smoothly while still allowing your team to take the time they need away from work. Here are a few tips for how to incorporate PTO into your project planning:

PTO calendar

A PTO calendar should be used to track who is off and when, and how much remaining PTO each employee has left. Usually, this will provide an overview of the current year, but you can plan further ahead if needed.

For project managers, this will provide an overview of when key members of the team are away, making planning around absences simple. A simple calendar will also make sure not too many team members take PTO at the same time and help managers better prepare for absences. That includes creating handovers and ensuring work is reassigned effectively.

It may also be helpful to mark key dates in the calendar, such as times when you’ll need all hands on deck (e.g., launch weeks) or events that your team won’t want to miss, like socials or Christmas parties.

Rules for PTO

Unfortunately, while flexibility with PTO is a must, that doesn't mean everyone can set their OOOs for the same week.

Depending on the size of your team, you may have a rule that only one person can be out of the office at any given time. With a larger team, you’ll likely need to break this down based on responsibilities. For example, perhaps managers and their subordinates can’t take time off concurrently.

Ultimately, the main rule is to make sure that you understand your resource availability. So, when absences do occur, you can easily cover that team member’s tasks without project progress stalling. This applies to both planned vacation time, allowing for a smooth handover, and unplanned illness.

Employ an approvals system

There are countless HR tools available that allow you to manage PTO requests and calendars electronically. With an online approvals system, an employee submits a request for time off, which is either approved or denied by their manager. This reduces the chances of miscommunication and makes sure any approved time off is added directly to the calendar.

Remember, vacations aren’t the only type of leave

Finally, while vacation requests are what usually springs to mind when thinking about PTO, it isn’t the only type of leave that employees will request. PTO can also cover parental leave, sick leave, and personal leave, the latter two of which may be requested with little or no warning. These occurrences can be difficult to plan for, but with a good understanding of who is best placed to manage what in each team member’s absence, you’ll be able to keep your projects running smoothly no matter what.

How Forecast can help

Being prepared for all eventualities is the name of the game when it comes to PTO planning. Thankfully, Forecast is here to take the guesswork out of resource management in the face of absences. From project forecasting to automated resource allocation, Forecast has all the tools you need to get on top of your PTO planning.

Create your project plans early in Forecast to quickly see how the workload will fluctuate over the year, allowing your team to plan their vacation time accordingly. Plus, when PTO is unexpectedly requested, Forecast can help you see what gaps need to be filled and who is available to pick up work that needs reallocating. Its AI can even fill the gaps for you.

Try Forecast out for yourself by signing up for a free trial below.

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