Podcast: PTO Genius Takes a Fresh Look at Time Off

PTO Genius


Mark Feffer: Welcome to PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM technology report. I’m Mark Feffer.

Today, I talk with Adam Gordon and Ulises Orozco. They’re the co-founders of PTO Genius. A platform that lets companies convert and use time off to help employees fund retirement, vacations or emergency expenses. They’ll tell us about the thinking behind their product and get into how it works. That’s on this edition of PeopleTech.

Adam, Ulises, thanks for being here. You guys have an interesting proposition which is using PTO has a strategic tool. How’s that work, Adam?

Adam: Sure. So just to give some perspective here. So PTO is the second most requested benefit across all workforce generations. And right now, lack of work-life balance is the number two reason why people leave an organization. So 36% want better compensation and benefits, 25% of people want better work-life balance. That’s according to a recent churn study.

So it’s not that people don’t want to work, it’s that they want to be more present wherever they are, right? And so when you’re at home, you want to be present with yourself, significant other, your family. And when you’re at work, you want the same thing in your employer wants the same thing. They don’t want you stressed about your finances or other things in your life. They want you to be present and you do too. You’re going to bring your best self when you are.

So you want your employees to be there, to give you their all and you don’t want to drive them into the ground because you’re going to get less and less from them. So it’s really about… It’s going to reflect in the bottom line. So PTO is really not just about what it was like back in the day of, “Oh, I have two weeks of vacation, I’m going to use it.” It’s really more of an element to help acquire talent right now, but also to be able to increase productivity, profitability and help show that you want to become an employer of choice and attract that talent out there that the turnover tsunami which is happening right now, is an opportunity for you as a company, to be able to separate yourself from the pack and show why people should come work for you every day.

Mark: How does it work? Because you mentioned PTO used to be, you get two weeks off a year and that was it. But I think everybody does still think about PTO as being something that’s kind of part of the package. So how do employers leverage it so that there’s more to it than a simple compulsory benefit as it were.

Adam: Yeah, sure. Uli, you want to take that one?

Ulises: Yeah. Yeah. It comes down to a few things, one is really driving home the point that the organization wants you to take time off, because yeah, you’re absolutely right, Mark. Frequently companies, it’s almost just a bullet point. It’s almost just a check mark that you have to have in your employee benefits package. But very much infrequently, and I think this is why some companies are having challenges is that, they don’t really talk about it, they don’t really encourage their managers to talk to their employees about it, they don’t check in about burnout, they don’t track burnout.

We’ve talked to so many companies that don’t have ways to track burnout and so one is again, just really saying, “Hey, we care about you getting away because when you’re here, we want you to really be present in here, when you’re home, we want you to be present and home and with your family and resting.” So yeah, one is talking about equating a culture of… I hate to use a word enforcing because that’s how you want to do, but certainly promoting PTO. And it starts with simple things like just adding it to your PTO policy. Like, “Hey, there’s an expectation that you will disconnect” and so on and so forth.

Mark: What does PTO Genius do?

Adam: Yeah, so we build an innovative technology. We help organizations really transform their employee experience and boost their profitability by really unleashing the power of their PTO. So our AI powered software, we help companies really optimize, automate and re-imagine their paid time off, to help uncover hidden opportunities to really decrease burnout like Uli said, reduce costs and improve employee loyalty.

So we do that by plugging into a company’s HRs’ system or PEO, and really just layer on top of their PTO policy now, and then enhance it and give them these companies, the ability to really personalize it. So like Uli said, companies that don’t know how to track burnout. We built a technology that identifies when employees are burned out. Companies don’t know at scale the best times to get employees out of the office. We build technology that helps surface those opportunities for people and nudge them to get away, which frees up precious time for HR and managers.

We inspire people to get away by servicing really fun and exciting trips and things for them to do that motivate them to want to go take time off. And that helps the organization a lot of ways, and then for companies that maybe want to think about financial wellness in a new way, they can let employees use a small portion of their accrued PTO to contribute towards their financial wellness and different ways. They can put some of their PTO into retirement, into their HSA, paying down student loans, even college savings and charity or accessing it as emergency cash. So we just give companies and ability to look at PTO in a different way to make it more powerful and more impactful for them and their employees.

Mark: Ulises, you want to add to that?

Ulises: Yeah. So it’s basically a more personalized approach to pay time off, right? Because we all know that all employees have different needs and different requirements and some people need more time off, some people burn out easier, some people are stressed because they can’t pay down their student loan, you know? So it’s really about being able to empower your employees and in a very personalized way to do more with their paid time off.

Mark: So is it fair to say that if an employer gives people, let’s say, two weeks of time off, they’re still only giving two weeks, but you’re giving them the tools to do more with that two weeks to make sure people take it, to try to build the idea of time off into the culture a little bit?

Ulises: Oh yeah, 100%. We’re not saying, “Hey, we’re coming into a company now you’ve got to give everyone three weeks.” We’re not saying that. What we’re saying is, let’s take those two weeks and let’s actually make them impactful. Let’s ensure that people go away and let’s make sure that we promote them going away when it’s non-disruptive, right? And a lot of times companies don’t know what that is, employees don’t know what that is or if they do, they shy away from those dates because some people just feel awkward about taking time off during certain times. So that is real powerful, right? And that’s really what we focus on.

Mark: So who’s doing this? Is it large companies, medium sized companies, small businesses, all of them. Can you give me a sense of who your customers are?

Adam: Yeah, it’s all across the board. We work with companies as small as 50 and we have companies we’re working with as large as Fortune 100. So a lot of forward thinking companies are now really starting to look at PTO and compensation and benefits and say, “How can we revisit this or look at this differently, or take advantage of the last 18 months and use that as an opportunity to help us kind of prepare for the future and the modern workforce and lean into that.” And it’s all industries, manufacturing, technology, banking, insurance, it’s really a wide variety.

Mark: Are they all using the platform in essentially the same way, or do you find that different companies take different approaches depending on industry or size or something else?

Adam: Yeah. The ladder, it’s based on their PTO policy, their pain points, their priorities and their culture and their goals, and then based on that we customize the platform to echo those.

Mark: Ulises?

Ulises: Yeah. No, exactly what Adam said. It’s a very bespoke solution. We don’t push one mantra over another, we just want to create the solution that lets the company do the best that they can with their policy.

Mark: Obviously the last 18 months I’ve been kind of funky in the business world and in the HR world in particular, because of COVID and layoffs. Now companies can’t find people to come back and take jobs. How do you think that the post COVID dynamics that we’re seeing are going to impact first, how companies view PTO, but also more specifically, how it’s going to impact your roadmap and your business?

Adam: Sure. So I’ll take the first part, Uli if you want to take the second part. I think Mark to your point, it’s a great question. When COVID first hit a lot of people were accruing PTO at a rate higher than ever before in the history of, since we’ve been tracking PTO and people didn’t have a way to take time off, they were getting burned out and it really resonated in a sense an impression to a lot of companies. And I think to your point, it forced them to rethink, “Okay, how can we show comp employees that we really care about them having work-life balance and being out of the office so that when they come back to their presence and they’re well rested.”

And I think that we’re really starting to see companies modify and change their policies to help them really speak to that point and tell employees, “Hey, we listened to you. We really care about you. We don’t want to just talk about it. We actually want to show you that we can do that.”

And we’re seeing them really change a lot of things in their policies, whether it’s adding more days of time off making, the policies more flexible, allowing people to perhaps roll over or do other things that are creative inside PTO, to just help them demonstrate that look, we want to make sure that we don’t have employees burning out at a rate that they were during the pandemics. So if we can get ahead of this and show and promote and make sure that people take time off. We can keep people at their best and keep them happy and that’s going to benefit us in the company.

Mark: Now, I have this picture in my head of you guys going into a prospect company and saying, “Okay, we’re going to tell you how to do more with your PTO, how to make it a bigger part of your culture and an advantage to your employer brand” kind of raising their eyebrows because it’s sort of an interesting opening statement when you first introduced this concept to employers, what’s the reaction you get and how do you overcome any hesitance?

Adam: Uli, you want to take that one?

Ulises: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it’s funny, right? And sometimes it’s like, “Oh, we’re doing enough with our PTO” or “PTO is just fine.” Because a lot of people aren’t looking at PTO, right. But more and more companies because of COVID have really started to take a step back and look at everything and say, “Is this really the best way to do things? Should we be doing something different now that the world is changing from the standpoint of the way we work, from the standpoint of the way that our division of personal time and professional time has just merged even more now that so many people are working from home.” So at first, it was, “Oh, we’re doing enough with our PTO.” And then we would start to tell them and they’re like, “Oh, we’re not doing enough with our PTO at all.”

And so it’s made the conversation very interesting where we’ve been able to spark a lot of creativity and conversations, not just around PTO but about the way that they should be looking at benefits in general, right. Yeah. So it’s been real good that way and COVID, and I hate to say this because it sounds, I mean, I hope it doesn’t sound bad, but it’s been helpful in that way. I mean, hurtful in so many other ways, but it’s been helpful in that way that it’s given people a moment to pause, take a breath and say, “How could we do more with the things we already have?”

Mark: What do employees think of this whole idea?

Ulises: Oh, they love it. Go ahead.

Mark: Do they love it instantly? Well, let me just follow up there. I mean, do they love it instantly or do they need to have it explained to them, do they get sort of a little nervous when you talk about coming in and doing things with PTO?

Adam: Employees, we’ve seen love it. We’ve even spoken with employees that we’re just talking to as, let’s say friends or just acquaintances and they say, “Gosh, I would love for my company to have this, can I connect you with the right person?” So I think it really resonates just based upon that this big holistic point that you brought up Mark, which is that people, they’re not machines they need time off. And I think the last 18 months have really taught us that if you want people to be at their best and to be present, you’ve got to give them the proper work-life balance and let them be able to be present when they’re…

It’s like a professional athlete when they’re on the court, they’re giving you their best and if you want that as the team owner of your team, you want to make sure that when those people aren’t at practice or aren’t at the game, that they’re relaxing, they’re chilling out, they’re catching their breath.

And it’s no different for working professionals like all of us. So we’re really seeing that message resonate with employees, and once they understand the concept, they’re all about it. And at that point, it’s how do we bring it into the organization, what’s the right way to bring it, to release it to the workforce there, to make sure that it echoes what the company’s priorities are and what their culture is, and to make sure that it fits well and meshes with their benefits package and what they want for their employees and the vision of the company.

Mark: Did COVID-19, well, I’m assuming COVID-19 had an impact on your business because it had an impact on everybody’s business, but what was the impact of COVID-19 on your roadmap, on your development, your timeline, your business?

Adam: Yeah. Looking back, it was great for our business. Well, let me just say first, it’s unfortunate that of course COVID happened, but looking back, it was great for our business because it speaks to the things that we focus on, which we’ve talked about, helping get people out of the office, burnout, a lot of things that affected organizations. Hospitals are some of our greatest clients nationwide because they have all these people who were working on the front lines and need time off and didn’t have a way to be able to catch their breath.

So we’ve seen a lot of impact across a wide variety of organizations and how it’s been able to truly benefit them and their employees. And it’s benefited us as well, and it’s helped make us smarter. We’ve had some great use cases and business cases that have helped challenge us, that’s helped create some new features of our platform.

And also lastly, COVID has helped us really prioritize and focus. We had a lot of really cool things in the roadmap, but as COVID was intensifying and we were starting as people with more companies, we had to prioritize and say, “Well, which things on our platform are the most impactful for people right now based on what we’re hearing versus what are things that we would like to do that maybe now we should play off towards later, but focused on the needs of our clients first.”

Mark: Ulises, anything you want to add?

Ulises: Yeah. Yeah. Just to expand on that last part, you’re talking to companies and there’s a lot of things that you’re both thinking to yourselves, “Gosh, that’s great, but we really need to focus on the burnout element. We really need to focus on making sure that employees are taking their time off and maybe travel is something that we should be turning off for now.” Right. So it’s kind of changed the, like the menu if you will, of the different functionality that most of the companies turn on in the beginning versus before it was just like, “Okay, well, I want this, this and this. I want to travel. I want that.” Which is now coming full circle, right. Now, companies are like, “Hey, great, let’s turn travel on.” But it certainly changed the way that they approached how to customize a platform and how to speak to the way that they want their policies to work.

Mark: Adam, Ulises, thanks so much for being here today.

Adam: Thank you for having us, Mark.

Ulises: Thank you, Mark.

Adam: We appreciate it and also thank you for all you do for the HR community.

Mark: I’ve been talking with Adam Gordon and Ulises Orozco, co-founders and PTO Genius, a platform that helps employers re-imagine their approach to time off. And this has been PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM technology report, where a publication of recruiting daily. PeopleTech is part of Evergreen podcasts. To see all of their programs, visit www.evergreenpodcasts.com. And to keep up with HR technology, visit the HCM technology report every day. We’re the most trusted source of news in the HR tech industry. Find us at www.hcmtechnologyreport.com. I’m Mark Feffer.

Image: PTO Genius

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