The summer everyone wants time off, I know I do, but you still have a child care center to run. Which means there have to be teachers in the classrooms. This time of year is the perfect time to evaluate your paid time off (PTO) policies.

There are lots of ways to provide benefits that meet both your school’s needs and help your staff feel appreciated. PTO is one of the most appreciated benefits in childcare.

Let’s talk about 3 ground rules that should apply to whatever PTO policy you choose:

Make it attractive

Your PTO policy has to be compelling for both prospective and long-term employees. While it’s key that your vacation and PTO policy is alluring to top teachers considering employment at your school, it’s also important that you structure it to reward long-term teachers. When reviewing all the options for your PTO policy, consider ways to have incentives build over time.

If your business closes over big holidays like the Fourth of July and Christmas, make sure you include mention of that when marketing your vacation plan. Saying, “Starting employees receive 3 weeks of vacation time including Fourth of July and Christmas PTO” sounds better than leaving out the extra time every employee gets off over holidays and saying, “Starting employees receive 2 weeks of vacation.”

Make it sustainable

At some companies, even though your policies allow for a certain amount of PTO, there’s a cultural undertone that actually taking that time off is frowned upon. You can have all the wonderful vacation policies in the world, but if there’s an unspoken rule that employees shouldn’t take advantage of them, your staff won’t renew themselves, thus increasing you teacher burnout. Conversely, if your school gains a great reputation for generous vacation and PTO policies, your popularity in the employer landscape can skyrocket.

Make it happen

A Glassdoor survey shows the average American employee only takes half of their vacation time, now this statistic is probably not reflective of early childhood education. Research shows that when employees take time off, they’re more productive because they’ve had time to recharge. We definitely need that. Teachers who are stressed don’t manage classes well. It’s in your best interest to actually encourage employees to take time off, not just because of stress management but also for disease resistance & reducing the spread of illnesses. When they are sick, they need to stay home, as well as taking at least one vacation a year.

Research shows that people are more productive when they take breaks: to be completely separated from work. This means that they aren’t babysitting for parents. They aren’t texting or calling you. They aren’t responding to calls or texts from parents.

So, what are some ways other centers handle PTO?

    1. Forced Time off:
      Some centers close for holidays, holiday weeks, and/or summer. This allows you to give folks time off without having to schedule substitutes. Everyone gets the same days off and you can be sure everyone is actually unplugging from the center.  It is your choice as to whether you pay your staff for these days off or not.At my first center, Little People, this is the method I started out with. I closed the center for 2 weeks a year.  We closed for the week of July 4th & the week between Christmas & New Years. All my permanent staff members were paid for those two weeks. We also had 5 federal or state holidays that we were closed.  One of those was our in service day.  So if you do the math that means all of my teachers were paid to not come to work 14 days a year.
    2. Floating Holidays:
      Decide the number of days you think your folks should have off per year, based on your budget & the needs of your staff. Each staff person gets that many days off in an account to be used for personal or sick days. They can use them as they see fit. This is a great option if you have a diverse staff with a variety or religious observances. Your observant Catholics may want Good Friday & Maundy Thursday off while your Muslim teachers may prefer Eid off twice a year & your Jewish staff may want off for Yom Kippor & Rosh Hashanah. For those who don’t celebrate specific religious Holy Days, there may be a desire to take off for their birthday or their child’s first day of school.The floating holidays allows for much more flexibility for your staff. It also means the administrator has more work. The trade off is that your employee’s needs are better met & that improve work performance & lowers turn-over.
    3. Pay for Seniority/Position:
      A version of the floating holiday system is one where new employees get x number of days off and after a certain amount of time they get more. Another version is that all Floaters get x number of days off & all Master Teachers get Y. For instance, perhaps after an employee has passed the probationary period, she gets 5 days of PTO to be used as desired. After 2 years they get 2 more days, then at 5 they go up to 2 weeks, at 7years 2.5 weeks and so on.It offers the benefits & disadvantages of the floating pay with the added elements of controlling costs & rewarding loyalty. This or the next version are what I see most often in centers.
    4. Hybrid:
      The hybrid system combines some forced time off with floating holidays. For instance you are closed for July 4th, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Christmas & Thanksgiving. Everyone must take those days off. Additionally they have PTO.This is the gold standard. This gives your staff control over their paid days off and allows you the certainty that they are actually taking time off. It is also more expensive & takes more work to manage, which is why not all centers choose to go this route.
    5. Two Pots:
      In the two pots method your employees have 2 pots of paid time off: medical leave & vacation. These can be paid at different rates, have different amounts of time in them and can be incentivized. For instance, centers may choose to pay unused sick days at the end of the year as a form of bonus. Or perhaps they can roll those days to the next year. I strongly suggest that the 2 pots be treated differently in some manner. The point is to encourage staff members to take care of their health & to actually take time off for mental breaks, AKA vacation.
      In this scenario if someone needs a sick day, they take it, but there is some sort of requirement to prove that they or their family member was ill. Sometimes 1 day of sick leave requires no note, but 2 or more requires a doctor’s note or similar documentation. The vacation days are scheduled in advance. These are planned for.

Do what works for your program and don’t be afraid to revise your strategy to work with the current economy. Your time-off policies should be one of your biggest selling points to new employees.

Most traditional centers can make this claim: No nights or weekend work requirements. This is a HUGE deal to potential employees. This is a major reason why people would rather work in a center than in retail or food service.
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