Why Unlimited PTO is Limited

Unlimited paid time off seems like a dream for a perfect work/life balance. American workers, on average, take the least paid time off every year compared to their European counterparts. In 2021, Americans that received paid time off took an average of 14 days off the entire year.

In recent years companies have been offering their employees unlimited paid time off to give them a more balanced work and personal life. Workers were excited about this new offer because they could schedule their dream destination vacations or take a mental health day when needed.

Unfortunately, paid time off in corporate America did not go as planned. Many big corporations or companies that offer this benefit tend to keep the concept of taking time off ambiguous. When leaders in the company are not actively advocating to take advantage of their unlimited time off, employees tend to take even less time off than if given a limited amount of days.

American companies such as Goldman Sachs have offered unlimited PTO to their employees, only making things worse for their employees. Workers at Goldman Sachs sometimes work up to 100-hour weeks, and having an ambiguous PTO benefit prevents employees from feeling like they can take off.

When employees are looking for a new position, they are very wary of accepting offers from companies that offer unlimited PTO. It is not that unlimited PTO is an inadequate benefit, but it is not well implemented. If your company is serious about proposing unlimited PTO, this is how we recommend you promote it.

Propose a PTO minimum

One of the best ways to implement unlimited paid time off is to set a minimum for employees. Requiring a minimum can be monthly, quarterly, or yearly, but the company should make sure employees take x amount of days.

The minimum could be distinguished as four weeks a year, at least one consecutive week a quarter, etc. The more explicit you make the rules of PTO, the more likely employees are to follow the guidelines.

Promote through action

One of the best ways to promote a company’s unlimited PTO is for employees to follow by example. When juniors and mid-level employees at a company don’t see seniors, director level, and VP+ level employees taking advantage of their unlimited PTO, they will feel guilty for using their time off unlimitedly.

When senior-level employees at a company regularly use their PTO as they choose, junior and mid-level employees will feel more comfortable using it as they wish.

Unlimited paid time off can be one of the most excellent benefits if it is executed well. If you are at a company that offers unlimited PTO, but there is pressure against taking it as you wish, have an open conversation with your higher-ups to promote a better work/personal life balance.