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Why is paid time off so hard to negotiate?
September 28, 2012 9:04 AM   Subscribe

What is the purpose of rigid paid-time off policies?

I recently had this sort of discussion with many recruiters:

Recruiter: Because of [your good qualifications] I can get you 20 days paid time off but, at this company, even people with [even better qualifications] don't get 25 days off so 20 days is the limit.

I understand financial remuneration being based on what an employee is perceived as bringing in to the company. I understand that some personality types need a corner office in order to fulfill their vision of themselves. What I don't understand is

I'm not talking here about customer facing or support position where presence or absence on a shift really matters.

Why, if you are of greater importance to your company you should be required to be there less time, (surely the opposite would make more sense?)

I understand that companies employ people because they need them to be there, but I do not understand the link to status.

Why, when I ask for more vacation than they want to provide, do they not give a counter-offer of the vacation I want, but less pay? They are slightly aghast when I ask fro more vacation than is on their books.

This sounds like I am just complaining, and to a certain extent I am, but I am wondering what the thinking, or logistics are behind this. Is it really as small-minded as it appears or is there some solid reasoning behind it? e.g. does it have some link to statute or tax benefits?

I understand paying someone more if they bring in more money but I don't see the link between status and time off.

In this area, paid time off varies from about 10 days at some companies to about 30 at others.
posted by fries to Work & Money (38 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I can't think of any legal reasons. It's smal minded in my mind. Ask for, instead, a flex time system where if you work over the 40 hours per week, that you're allowed to take any of those hours as paid time off within the next month. They're going to respond with, "But you're a salaried, "exempt" worker, and don't qualify for flex time." Which means they want to chain you to your desk, work you until you die, keep you from taking vacations because you'll use all of your 'vacation' days as sick days because you're chained to your desk, etc.

And I probably wouldn't go to work for that company if I could find a better deal elsewhere. Some other chump can deal with that kind of thing, in my opinion, until companies and recruiters wise up a little bit and start offering better working conditions.
posted by SpecialK at 9:09 AM on September 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Accounting rules?
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 9:11 AM on September 28, 2012


It's easy and cheap to give high-status and senior people more vacation time, because they're nearly guaranteed not to take all of it. And when they do take it, they're usually answering email and taking phone meetings anyway. Lower-ranked folks are much more likely to actually take their PTO and not keep working through it, so they don't get as much of it.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:12 AM on September 28, 2012 [13 favorites]


Paid Time Off plans are usually company wide - a single plan for everybody. Much the same as everybody getting the same choice of health plans. So you can't have differences in PTO between employees - with the exception that there can be tiers depending on years of service.

Obviously if we wanted to setup systems to enable everybody to have different PTO amounts we could. But unlike salary, PTO differences would be more visible and I think lead to more feelings of unfairness. Frankly as an employer I'm happy to just have to negotiate salary and not have a second degree of freedom. Also I want people to actually be here and work so I'd rather minimize PTO as much as I can. I would also be concerned with a candidate's work ethic if all they wanted to negotiate was PTO.
posted by Long Way To Go at 9:13 AM on September 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Also, nobody knows how much you are paid, so they can safely pay you more or less than a coworker. Those same co-workers will know how often you are on vacation, and if it is more often they they are, it's a problem that HR will have to deal with.
posted by COD at 9:14 AM on September 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


I've worked for a few Fortune 500 companies and the time off policies are strictly structured and based upon years of service.

I've never heard of some people getting some number of days, or others getting a different number.

I've seen a difference between salaried and hourly folks, but top to bottom, everyone gets the same number of days commensurate with their years of service to the company.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:15 AM on September 28, 2012


Morale. The guy who sits next to you doesn't know if your paycheck is bigger than his, but he can tell if you're getting more days off than he is. It's better to keep things like this consistent and maintain harmony.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 9:16 AM on September 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Some of it is accounting. As you work, you earn that PTO and it goes on the company's balance sheet as a liability.
posted by VTX at 9:20 AM on September 28, 2012


You don't understand the link between status and perks such as time-off?

However, I do not think that is the true issue here. You are applying for a job and the big thing on your mind if paid time off. The prospective employer is surely drawing some conclusions about your work ethic. "Hmm, this candidate is 'slight aghast' when we decline to grant them more vacation time than we grant anyone else at the company."

I'm a lawyer at a mid-size firm, so there is obviously a wide spectrum of status from the name partners to the mail room staff. However, everyone is on the same PTO schedule, which is tiered according to years of service with the firm. I think you will find this to be the standard in the workforce.

20 days per year of PTO from the first day is pretty good IMO. I currently am entitled to a few days more than that but never use but half of it per year.
posted by Tanizaki at 9:23 AM on September 28, 2012


Why, when I ask for more vacation than they want to provide, do they not give a counter-offer of the vacation I want, but less pay?

To dissuade you from taking more time off.

The fact that they hired you shows that they place a higher value on the working you're doing for them, than on the money they're giving you. If they valued these things equally, or if they would rather have kept their money and not had you working for them, they wouldn't bother to hire you in the first place.

Analogy: I used to subscribe to the New York Times paper edition. The paper was usually delivered to my door, but I often didn't get my newspaper. The NYT dealt with this by telling me: that's fine, just call us up to let us know you didn't get your paper, and we'll refund you the prorated cost of getting the paper that day. I went along with that for a while, but eventually I decided that this was not a good deal for me. After all, the premise of my decision to subscribe was that I placed a higher value on consistently getting the paper as part of my daily routine. It annoyed me for them to keep depriving me of the thing I wanted for them; I made the deal with them because I wanted that thing more than I wanted to keep my money. If I had known that the paper was going to be so erratic in showing up, I would have saved my money and trouble, and found some other daily routine that would be more consistent. My attitude toward the NYT is similar to your employer's attitude about you. If it was just as happy to keep some extra money and live with an employee who's often absent from work, it wouldn't have hired you in the first place; it would have found some other, more consistently available means of achieving its goals (e.g. making the rest of the employees work harder, using automated technology, lowering standards).
posted by John Cohen at 9:29 AM on September 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


You are applying for a job and the big thing on your mind if paid time off. The prospective employer is surely drawing some conclusions about your work ethic. "Hmm, this candidate is 'slight aghast' when we decline to grant them more vacation time than we grant anyone else at the company."

And this - right here - is the crux of the problem. "I want to spend time away from work" is taken as a sign of a poor work ethic, and therefore it's something that people are reluctant to negotiate on. I've always found this odd as many of the hardest-working people I know choose to work freelance specifically to be able to take multiple long-term trips each year, but that's the nature of American corporate culture.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:30 AM on September 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


that's the nature of American corporate culture.
And that's the crux of it. It's possible to do this; my company does it. It's not as easy to manage as giving everyone the same plan, but it's possible to do.

Although, my company has a policy of unlimited time off for IT staff. Generally, we're all working absurd numbers of hours anyway and if we decide to actually take some off, we deserve it. No one abuses it because no one wants to lose the privilege (you get "talked to" if you abuse it).
posted by SpecialK at 9:49 AM on September 28, 2012


VTX: "Some of it is accounting. As you work, you earn that PTO and it goes on the company's balance sheet as a liability."

Yea, they have to pay you for unused PTO days if you quit or get laid-off so any outstanding time you have is a liability.
posted by octothorpe at 9:51 AM on September 28, 2012


The company is saying "We'll pay you for 20 days where you produce no work for us." You are saying, "No, I want you to pay me for 25 days where I produce no work for you." And you wonder why they do not counter-offer with "Okay, we'll pay you for 25 days, but we'll pay you LESS!"
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 10:33 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I agree that the US tends to give way too little time off -- that was certainly the biggest shock to my system in going from academia to the office world. But I also agree that tiered systems are fair.

The only time that a deal like you suggest seems reasonable to me would be if special circumstances applied -- i.e., you were going to be working a long-distance marriage, or you have elderly parents in India and need to make visits there 3x/year to keep their lives running. For something like that, a vacation-for-pay (or, I guess, regular PTO + an extra week unpaid per year) deal would seem ok to request, at least for a few years.
posted by acm at 10:58 AM on September 28, 2012


"PTO differences would be more visible [than differences in pay] and I think lead to more feelings of unfairness"

and

"co-workers will know how often you are on vacation, and if it is more often they they are, it's a problem that HR will have to deal with."


But it would not be a problem if it was common place for people to have different amounts of time off and it was known that this was negotiated as part of compensation. i.e. if you had more vacation then I for similar work and status, I could reasonably assume that you'd negotiated a deal where you were being paid less.
posted by fries at 11:08 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


"The only time that a deal like you suggest seems reasonable"

But this is my question. What makes it UNreasonable?
posted by fries at 11:14 AM on September 28, 2012


In some places the hiring process and contracts and things set in place make it tough for the people doing the actual hiring. I worked for a small, boutique firm that would negotiate over vacation allowances when hiring or at review time (although as some are saying above, variances definitely caused issues among people at roughly the same pay grade - remember back to when you were on only 10 days vacation and hated it, someone else getting 12 was a huge deal). The firm got bought by a big corporate giant and suddenly exactly the same hiring managers refused to negotiate time off - it was that much of a pain in the ass to have to explain to head office why they were changing allowances that some consultant or working group had defined for everybody way back whenever. This despite the fact that people in our field are hard to come by, and generally have choices.
posted by jamesonandwater at 11:23 AM on September 28, 2012


Personally, I think it's just a terrible, idiotic piece of American culture that is difficult to get over for the same reason queue-jumping is a social crime in Britain but something to brag about in Italy, or how you "have to" drink to excess with your coworkers in white-collar jobs in Japan or Korea but doing so in many other countries (including many workplaces in the USA) would be terribly embarrassing.

20 days per year of PTO from the first day is pretty good IMO. I currently am entitled to a few days more than that but never use but half of it per year.

Like, why is this person even mentioning this? It's because this is seen as some sort of virtuous behavior in the USA. It's like how most people in the USA, when a phone call wakes them from sleep, and the caller says, "Oh, sorry, were you sleeping?" will hoarsely groan out "No, no, I was awake." As if sleeping is some sort of moral failure. You sell your time to your company. They give you a certain amount of money for a certain amount of time. Giving them additional time for no additional money, as the above commenter is, would be the same thing as just throwing away some of your paycheck, economically. But no one would admit to doing this, because it is not culturally virtuous, even though it is the exact same thing. You sell all but 20-some days of the working calendar to your employer for $X. Then you also give him 10. Bragworthy. You sell all but 10 or some days of your working calendar to your employer for $X. You take the money, except you throw 10 days' worth of it in the garbage. Embarassing, idiotic mistake.

So pushing against this by saying, "Well, I'd like more PTO and less pay." is like standing facing the back wall of an elevator, or admitting you were asleep when the phone rang. It's a cultural taboo violation that makes people uneasy. They start to think you are a bad worker or that you don't have the right attitude for the job. Which is, of course, completely moronic. The only reason to link "would exchange PTO for money" is culture and superstition.

For instance, imagine if you said, "I'd do this job, but only for more money." That's totally normal. People expect that. No one ever says, "uhhh, he wants money? What is he, lazy? He needs all this money to motivate him to show up? The work itself isn't intrinsically motivating? Is he greedy? Only driven by lust for material things?" No, of course not. Even though _these are exactly precisely interchangeable_.

At least for small companies, there is no statutory or accounting reason to not allow people to negotiate different PTO deals. When I used to manage a software company, we had no fixed PTO policies and people took wildly different amounts of PTO. I don't think, in retrospect, this was the right way to deal with this (I think the cultural pressure to work all the time made people take too little PTO, instead of acknowledging the piles of research about the benefits of vacation and rest to productivity) but it is trivially easy to allow whoever you want to take as much PTO as they want. As to the "a liability accretes on your books" it doesn't have to, depending on how you treat PTO. You can have it expire, for instance. You can not have formal PTO policies and just pay people a salary to work when they happen to work, which is the whole point of salaried, exempt-status employees. Think about it this way: companies don't accrete a liability for paid lunch off when employees at at their desks, right?

This is a huge consequence, in the USA, of the lack of a strong organized labor movement. Even if most people *would* be happy having more PTO in exchange for less pay, there is no way for individuals to negotiate against the cultural pressure and large employers. In Europe, where is much stronger collective bargaining, this is exactly what happened: on average, "exempt"-type workers in the wealthier European countries receive a bit more paid time off than their American counterparts, but earn a bit less money.
posted by jeb at 11:27 AM on September 28, 2012 [22 favorites]


The only reason to link "would exchange PTO for money" is culture and superstition.

Meant 'The only reason to link "would exchange PTO for money" to "has terrible work ethic/attitude" is culture and superstition.'
posted by jeb at 11:29 AM on September 28, 2012


This is not just a US thing, by the way. I'm in Canada, and my siblings in Ireland and corporate colleagues in Britain talk about wanting more vacation time too and in some cases try to fight for more. The Europeans just start on higher allowances than your average North American does.
posted by jamesonandwater at 11:32 AM on September 28, 2012


It may just be a company policy of what they can offer for all the employees with the position you're applying for.

The companies are probably unhappy that you ask for more vacation days in your interviews because that looks like you are already planning to avoid the office as much as possible. They would be more likely to hire someone who doesn't ask for more days off right away.

Also, (sorry if people above have said this) offering more vacation days is an incentive to attract desirable senior staff.
posted by mlle valentine at 12:05 PM on September 28, 2012


This is not just a US thing, by the way. I'm in Canada, and my siblings in Ireland and corporate colleagues in Britain talk about wanting more vacation time too and in some cases try to fight for more.

The difference is this is a totally reasonable thing to argue for in those countries, whereas in the USA, it makes you look like a slacker. In any of the countries, it's perfectly acceptable to say, "I want more money for my time!" In some of the countries, it is acceptable to say, "I will accept the same amount of money but give you less time!" The USA is not one of those countries.

One of my friends worked at BMW North America, in the Silicon Valley engineering office. BMW has some sort of pay parity policy that adjusts for cost of living, etc. across the different office locations. So an engineer in Silicon Valley is supposed to get the same deal as an equivalent-status engineer in Munich, say. However, BMW was complying with German labor law and granting all the FT BMW engineers in German six weeks' paid leave each year. In the USA, everyone got ten days.

This situation persisted for years until a bunch of German employees were relocated to the USA and were like, "are you effing kidding me? We will not accept this." BMW caved and offered all the NA employees the same vacation deal as the Europe employees. The Americans just never brought it up. Silicon Valley is the worst exponent of the cultural myth that "being in the office all the time" implies "being a great worker", despite having access to the most research on the corrosive effects of overwork on brain-worker productivity.
posted by jeb at 12:18 PM on September 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't think so. I've worked in Ireland, Holland, the US and Canada myself. The company that took over my Canuck firm is British. The "base vacation" time differs in Europe, of course, but battling with set vacation-time-per-tier and offering to take less money for more time off is just as much of a battle wherever you are in my experience, when comparing equivalent corporate jobs. *shrug* maybe that's just my industry though.
posted by jamesonandwater at 12:27 PM on September 28, 2012


Why insist on more paid vacation? You can usually get more time off for less pay -- it's called Leave WithOut Pay, or LWOP. Sometimes, you'll need a good excuse to justify this; make something up if being honest makes you look bad.
posted by Rash at 1:41 PM on September 28, 2012


So you, as a new employee, deserve more vacation time off than longtime or high-ranking employees because.....? Pretty much every company I've ever worked for has tied PTO amounts to lenght of service: usually some variation of 4 hours per pay period for 0-5 year employees; 6 hours per pay period for 5-15 year employees; 8 hours per pay period for employees with 15 years or more of service.

You say that you "understand that financial remuneration is based on what an employee brings to the company" but not why vacation time is linked to status. But it ISN'T tied to 'status' in the way you seem to be using it, as a synonym for high-ranking executives; it IS tied to lenght of service (read: dedication and value to the company), or in other words their 'status' as a longtime employee. At it's base, 'financial remuneration' = salary + benefits (i.e., paychecks + vacation and sick time + health care plans etc.)

All in all, yes this does sound a bit whiny/complainy, more specifically it sounds like it would be too much trouble to hire a person who is complaining about company policy even before they are part of the company. Plus trying to negotiate for more vacation time than the company standard makes a job applicant look (from the company's standpoint) like that applicant is not really interested in either the job or the company's success.
posted by easily confused at 3:19 PM on September 28, 2012


So you, as a new employee, deserve more vacation time off than longtime or high-ranking employees because.....?

Because you're offering to pay for your vacation time via a lower salary, and they wanted a bigger paycheck that obligates them to more weeks in the office.

I think Rash has it - in the USA, you would accept that PTO is standardised, and negiotate for lower salary and more time off via applying for unpaid leave.

But even that (without an emergency reason) is likely to raise question marks and superstitions that you're not a good worker.
posted by anonymisc at 5:24 PM on September 28, 2012


I think in the US just taking the standard amount of PTO you're entitled to marks you as a slacker.

Hence why people in this thread feel the need to point out that they don't.
posted by dave99 at 5:33 PM on September 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


jeb, I don't think you understand how PTO works in the US. If you don't use all of your vacation time in a given year, it rolls over to the next year. It's still yours and you can use it later. If you leave the company without using it all, many companies will pay it out to you in cash. Basically you have your choice: take the time off or the cash. In that scenario it's hardly irrational not to take all your vacation days.
posted by kindall at 5:38 PM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


So you, as a new employee, deserve more vacation time off than longtime or high-ranking employees because.....? Pretty much every company I've ever worked for has tied PTO amounts to lenght of service: usually some variation of 4 hours per pay period for 0-5 year employees; 6 hours per pay period for 5-15 year employees; 8 hours per pay period for employees with 15 years or more of service.

Who stays at a company for 15 years?
posted by asockpuppet at 6:11 PM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm saying that because i think its reasonable to ask for more vacation, because it's unreasonable to think you would be there that long. Find out what their turnover is. The ship has sailed for lifelong jobs and pto policies have not caught up with that.
posted by asockpuppet at 6:18 PM on September 28, 2012


You have made two conceptual mistakes here...

First, you've made the mistake of considering your time as having equal value to what they pay you for it. If they had equal value, as John Cohen points out, no one would pay you for it. More bluntly, you make your company more money by showing up to work, than they lose by paying you. Lost time means lost money.

Second, you have to consider the convenience factor. Your employer can make up for a complete lack of cross-training by making sure they always have you around, discouraging you from using your vacation time and encouraging you to take what you must (cue eye-roll) in one or two day blocks. Taking a week off at many companies requires months of advance notice, and virtually all companies reserve the right to cancel it at a moment's notice.

That said - Keep fighting for it, and know that you have me on your side (for what little that matters)! Fuck this sick American ideal of working ourselves to death. I work to live.
posted by pla at 7:36 PM on September 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


The more subtle way of negotiating over this is to ask to be considered a more senior employee with X years seniority as of your start date, where X is the number of years of employment that entitles you the amount of vacation you want.
posted by deanc at 4:50 AM on September 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


At my work this is not possible, until a very special tier on which I know a few people -- becoming an 80% employee at 80% of salary and benefits. At that point they acquire an extra 44 vacation days (or whatever it works out to) per annum, but everybody knows they did it and that they're being paid less -- no morale effect.
posted by zvs at 8:56 AM on September 29, 2012


Alternatively, there is one very easy way to negotiate with a company so they'll accept a deal where you get more time off in exchange for less pay: apply only for part time jobs.
posted by easily confused at 11:05 AM on September 29, 2012


easily confused : Alternatively, there is one very easy way to negotiate with a company so they'll accept a deal where you get more time off in exchange for less pay: apply only for part time jobs.

You can actually get away with that in some professions (IT as one example), and done right, you can make more money than you would otherwise (even after considering the loss of benefits). You do, however, give up any pretense of job security by going that route - In a recession, the 1099's hit the door first.

That said, I have a few friends who swear by it; and in good times, I very much consider it an enviable working arrangement - They make almost twice what I do for similar work, they get two or three months of vacation (if they want it), and if they don't like the BS at a particular site, they can just stop accepting hours from that contract. The last few years, though, they've ended up getting more like nine months of "vacation", not quite so enviable anymore.
posted by pla at 12:18 PM on September 29, 2012


jeb, I don't think you understand how PTO works in the US. If you don't use all of your vacation time in a given year, it rolls over to the next year.

This is not always true and it's not a legal requirement. Also, some companies will allow you to roll a capped number of days. "Use or lose" is a common phenomenon in December.
posted by Pax at 9:52 AM on October 1, 2012


I take that back, there could be state laws of which I am not aware that require PTO payouts.
posted by Pax at 12:53 PM on October 1, 2012


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