Trading PTO for Perks

It happens all the time: The end of the year rolls around, and busy employees find themselves with handfuls of unused vacation days, and too much work to feel good about cashing them in.

But what if they could still get something of value in exchange for that paid time off?

A new start-up is enabling employees to do just that.

As recently reported in the Washington Post, PTO Exchange has just begun working with Premera Blue Cross to let the health insurer’s workers trade in the value of their unused paid time off for other perks, which could include added contributions to 401(k) accounts, putting money toward college tuition expenses, getting reimbursement for travel expenses or making a donation to a favorite charity.

While Premera Blue Cross is PTO Exchange’s first and only client thus far, co-founder Rob Whalen told the Post that PTO Exchange has heard from “150 interested companies, including large retailers and pharmaceutical firms, and is in advanced discussions with several major [HR] consulting firms.”

Organizations are “trying to offer flexibility to their employees,” Whalen told the paper. “They currently have this benefit on the books, and it’s budgeted—they might as well find ways to use it.”

The notion of offering workers the opportunity to swap paid time off for other perks “is a brand new concept meant to meet an emerging workforce need,” says Craig Dolezal, senior vice president at Lincolnshire, Ill.-based Aon Hewitt.

We could very well see others emerging to provide a similar service, he says.

“Like all innovations in benefits, there typically is a leader that drives a potential solution first, with others more than willing to create their own version once there is a real market need. … If more adopt [the PTO Exchange] model, we will most certainly see others build comparable solutions.”

Whether that happens, of course, is predicated on the idea that exchanging PTO days for other needs or wants passes all legal, administrative, compliance and financial tests, adds Dolezal.

Indeed, employers and HR have much to consider before rolling out such a benefit to the workforce.

“The very first place to focus is on the alignment with an employer’s business, cultural and human capital strategies,” says Dolezal. “Does this type of total benefits flexibility benefit the organization and [its] people? Does the exchange work in concert with [the company’s] broader workforce management approaches?”

If the answer to those questions is yes, then the company “would need to explore the legal and financial viability of the exchange and test the administrative approach,” he says, “to ensure this potentially new benefit can work seamlessly alongside other total rewards programs.”