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Is Unlimited PTO Really Unlimited?

Is Unlimited PTO Really Unlimited?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

We often think about the Unlimited PTO as something desirable. That’s why so many workplaces offer this perk as a way to attract talent. However, the Unlimited PTO policy, just like flexible hours and personal days off, has a lot of grey areas that can leave us doubting more often than we’d like to.


After all – even with the Unlimited PTO, you still have to do your job, and you’re still paid to work, not to go on a vacation. Because of these grey spots, we decided to revisit the concept of the Unlimited PTO policy, explain it in detail, and provide you with clear guidance, in case your employer offers it, or you want to introduce it to your workplace.


What is the unlimited PTO policy?


Let’s start from the basics, and explain what the Unlimited PTO policy is. As per definition, the Unlimited PTO policy enables employees to take as many vacation days as they want, as long as their work doesn’t suffer. This policy is meant to put an accent on the job done, rather than the actual presence, as it gives employees greater autonomy and increases their accountability when it comes to getting their job done. 


The main difference between limited and unlimited leave policy is in the fact that the Unlimited PTO policy lacks the formality when it comes to vacation tracking. However, there are some rules to be followed even with this leave policy type, as employees still need to keep their employer updated on their whereabouts and ensure they’re synced with their coworkers.


Is unlimited PTO really unlimited?


And now, when we explain what the unlimited PTO policy is, we should answer the question we want to know: is it really unlimited?


The most honest answer is simple: it’s not.


Unlimited vacation policies often don’t mean unlimited vacation time. Many workplaces use it as a powerful marketing tool while recruiting talent, and as a way to stay marketable, compared to other companies in the industry. Over the past decade, many startups started advertising this policy as something that’s widely accepted, and while it does sound attractive on paper, it’s less exciting in practice.


Furthermore, the Unlimited PTO policies are a great way for companies to save money. By implementing the PTO leave policy, companies don’t have the obligation to pay their employees for their unused vacation days. It’s a deceptive work-around for companies since it saves them from tracking and accruing a liability of paying unused days off. 


What’s more, by some statistics, people on the Unlimited PTO policy use fewer vacation days than their “limited” counterparts. According to Namely’s study, employees on the unlimited vacation policy use an average of 13 days off per year, compared to those with a limited number that use an average of 15 days per year.


Benefits of Unlimited PTO


So far, it seems like we discussed only the shortcomings of the unlimited PTO policy. However, it does come with some perks, including:


  • More efficient time management. Unlimited PTO might help us achieve more while doing less, as we know we can take some time off once we clear the tasks.


  • Increased productivity. When we know we can take a vacation when we feel stressed and burned out, it’s much easier to time our vacation days to avoid feeling like this. This, in turn, results in a more productive workday, year around.


  • Less paperwork. HR managers will tell you how hard it is to sync vacation time, and what papers they need to fill out to make your vacation approved. Having an unlimited PTO policy makes their life much easier, as they don’t have to track vacation time as much and as adamantly.


  • Getting sick days is much easier. Unlimited PTO usually includes paid sick days, which means fewer people will come into work sick and contaminate you. Instead, they’ll feel the liberty to take as many sick days


How to implement an unlimited PTO policy?


Here are a few ways how your organization can implement an unlimited PTO policy successfully.


  • Set clear expectations. Before implementing something new, you should think about things that are realistic and the ones that aren’t. Make a list of rules to follow, but ensure everyone understands them as well. What’s more, you should make the list of those rules accessible to everyone within the organization, which can serve as a reminder, in times they feel unsure.


  • Lead by example. If they don’t see you practice what you preach, employees will feel less keen on following the rules you imposed. That said, if you plan on implementing an unlimited PTO policy, make sure you follow it and use it, to give a cue to others to follow your lead.


  • Define success. The work environment is competitive by its nature. However, it’s important to define what success for your organization is, to avoid employees staying at work longer hours just because their coworkers do so. That said, make sure to communicate and show you value work quality over hours worked and allow each employee to take deserved time off without stressing about it.


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