How to Navigate an Unlimited PTO Policy

John Krautzel
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Unlimited vacation time sounds like the ultimate job perk, evoking images of visiting sandy beaches throughout the year between hectic work weeks. Unfortunately, getting employees to use this enticing benefit can be more complicated than you might think. Here are some of the facts about unlimited vacation days and a few methods for getting workers in your company to take their time off when they need it.

The Basics of Unlimited PTO

Unlimited vacation time means that workers can take as many days off as they want. This perk is usually paired with the idea that productivity is more important than simply showing up for work and can allow workers to create a better work-life balance while deciding for themselves when they need to refresh. Many tech companies and modern start-ups offer this perk to executives and senior management, while other organizations use it to compensate for less-than-ideal pay. Companies can provide this benefit to everyone with the exception of nonexempt employees, who must adhere to federal laws regarding wages and hours worked.

The Problem With Unlimited Vacation Time

Despite the appeal of this perk, most people don't take advantage of their uncapped vacation time. In fact, while employees with capped vacation time take an average of 15 days off a year, employees with unlimited PTO take just 13, according to the 2017 HR Mythbusters report. Some companies offer this benefit knowing that most workers aren't likely to take their time off, using it as a way to get around paying for unused vacation time in case employees quit. However, other organizations see the value of vacations and truly want their employees to use their PTO.

How Can Companies Make Unlimited Time Off Work?

If companies want unlimited vacation time to be more than just a hiring incentive, they have to create a culture that encourages employees to use it. Doing so benefits more than just employees. Having time to recharge allows workers to return to work with boosted engagement and productivity. One way to get employees to use their PTO is to lead by example. If members of senior management are brave enough to take a few vacation days, workers are likely to follow suit. Companies can also offer vacation stipends and other financial bonuses that encourage even the most dedicated workers to take a break. Promoting vacation talk in the workplace can also help downplay the guilt factor that workers associate with taking too much vacation time.

Unlimited vacation time can be a powerful perk, but unless companies work hard to encourage their employees to use it freely, team members may continue to overwork and suffer from burnout. What are other ways businesses can get their workers to take more vacations? Share your ideas in the comments.

Photo courtesy of Suwit Ritjaroon at


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