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Why the Future of Work Includes Unlimited PTO

One of the many ways modern workforces have evolved over the last couple decades has been the embracing of unlimited PTO. If you work from home at a startup or a young company looking to attract new talent, there’s a good chance you can take as much paid time off as you want.

Almost 10% of American employees work under an unlimited PTO (hereafter uPTO) policy. On one hand, that number’s better than it looks, considering the enormous amount of minimum wage jobs that can’t offer it. On the other hand… it should still be way higher!

The reason uPTO hasn’t become universally accepted by American office environments is due to a few worries from HR leaders about its efficacy and ability to be abused. Fortunately, their worries stem from myths, and we’re here to bust them.

uPTO Myths

Something that likely crosses the mind of any leaders who implement uPTO is, “What if everyone constantly takes days off? If the time off is unlimited, won’t folks want to push it, well, to the limit?”

They won’t.

Here’s a really cool statistic: the average worker who works under uPTO takes 13 days off a year. Most workplaces offer 15 days of vacation a year, which means employees will usually treat their uPTO the exact same way as a typical time-off policy. The truth is that people don’t seek uPTO so they can take twice as many vacations as usual – they seek uPTO so they can take their standard vacations and still have enough flexibility for emergency days off or spur-of-the-moment rest days.

Another myth is that uPTO can bring rampant inconsistency in employees’ days off. Perhaps a couple team members do take advantage of the policy with 40 days of vacations, while a few others want to be seen as hard workers and only take a few days off. The ones that always come in would experience more burnout, and the ones that vacation would be more unreliable.

This is rather rare, and simply put, a sign of a bad work culture. If you’ve got employees trying to leave as much as possible, you must not be part of an environment that people enjoy being a part of.

You can avoid any inconsistencies in time off with smart management and a healthy culture. The folks who avoid taking time off don’t do it because they love their jobs, they instead fear reproach or judgment for “slacking”. Remind them, aggressively so, that they should get out of the office! As a leader, getting excited about a team member’s vacation or personal leave is extremely encouraging, and makes them feel better about taking a couple extra.

To make sure no one’s using uPTO to escape a toxic work environment, use an employee retention strategy like stay interviews to sit down with someone and figure out if anything can be fixed about your culture. You’ll never have an issue with too many missed days when employees enjoy coming in.

If you want to get serious, you could even impose a “minimum time off” policy. Essentialise, a well-being agency, walks their own walk by requiring a minimum of 25 days off a year for every employee. If that’s a bit steep for your business, you can always elect for fewer days – but your staff will love the idea.

What Makes uPTO Great

It’s ironic that uPTO has such a positive effect on organizational success and employee engagement when you consider the fact that folks generally don’t actually take extra vacations. As we mentioned before, though, it’s the flexibility that people love.

The proof is in the pudding (statistics) – 72% of American employees would prefer to work under uPTO. Even if it doesn’t change the look of their work year, it’s incredibly meaningful because they know a health emergency won’t affect their standard vacation time. 

37% of American workers that work under standard PTO don’t use up all their vacation time, and that’s because of the “in case” worry – what if I take a big vacation and then… something happens? Who knows what could happen, but something could happen! Employees with uPTO don’t have that fear, which results in a better well-being and a greater appreciation for their company’s policy.

That’s the other half of uPTO’s success – employees feeling like their organization cares about their happiness. Even if they take the same time off, a worker will have a more sour attitude towards a business that limits their PTO. It’s starting to feel old-fashioned. 

For the same reason, uPTO is a really strong recruiting tool.  Prospective talent will always side with a job offering that offers uPTO over normal PTO, even if they won’t take a ton. Young talent will immediately know that your company cares about its workers and values flexibility over rigidity.

If you change anything about your workplace in 2023, consider offering unlimited PTO. It will alleviate your team’s stress & anxiety and make for a better culture.

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