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How Unlimited PTO Can Mean Less Time Off

Estimated reading time ~ 3 min
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"Unlimited PTO? You get to take as much time off as you want," the recruiter's words echoed through my phone. Excitement surged through me as thoughts of work-life balance flooded my mind. However, the reality of "unlimited" time off hit me after I'd already accepted the job. In that first year, I barely used any sick days and only managed a single week of actual PTO. What was happening? Where did my dreams of work-life balance go?

As it turns out, this scenario is pretty common for folks with unlimited PTO. Many companies see an underutilization of this benefit. According to a report by SHRM, "A more common problem with unlimited vacation is that employees may end up limiting the amount of time they take off, sometimes taking far less than the average two weeks most employers offer."

I began to sense a growing resentment due to the scarcity of my time off. This feeling prompted me to pause and reflect on why I hadn't utilized the planned time off. Upon introspection, I realized that both the company culture and its policies had contributed to the underutilization of my time off.

Shifting Views on Paid Time Off

In our evolving job landscape, where skills lean more towards digital prowess than manual labor, success is gauged by execution rather than hours clocked. This holds especially true in the tech industry. Consequently, many companies tie their unlimited PTO policy to performance. Translation: if you're delivering results, you can take all the time you need. But therein lies the trap — to take time off, you must momentarily stop delivering.

Compensation Disconnect

Companies without unlimited PTO often compensate employees for unused days. However, the switch to unlimited PTO often means employers no longer pay employees for their unused time. This cost-saving measure can inadvertently keep employees from seeing their time off as worth money.

Guideline Gaps

Ambiguity often surrounds companies' unlimited PTO guidelines. This leaves employees uncertain about expectations, prompting them to err on the side of caution. The ripple effect impacts the entire organization, as employees pattern their time off after their peers'.

Blurred Boundaries

The rise of remote work, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, complicates matters further. With work traveling alongside employees, they might not take sick days and even work while on vacation. This blurs the lines between work and rest, deceivingly portraying work as time off.

As someone who initially struggled with unlimited PTO, I eventually figured out how to make it work for me. Here's some advice to ensure unlimited PTO benefits you:

  1. Candid Conversations: When considering a job with unlimited PTO, engage in direct conversations. Seek clarity on the cultural norms around time off. Ask about the frequency of team vacations and even inquire about the management's approach to taking time off. This will help you gauge the PTO culture and the performance metrics linked to it.
  2. Set a Timer: Avoid letting time slip through your fingers. Set quarterly reminders to prompt yourself to take time off. A gentle nudge can make a big difference.
  3. Disconnect Deliberately: In the era of remote work, the temptation to remain connected during vacation is strong. However, make a conscious effort to detach and truly embrace your time off.

Remember, unlimited PTO can be a remarkable benefit when harnessed effectively. By understanding the nuances and adopting a proactive approach, you can truly make it work to your advantage.

Jopwell helps America's leading companies connect with and recruit Black, Latinx, and Native American professionals and students at scale. Sign up to find your dream job.