The potential downside of unlimited PTO

By: Kris Boesch Friday January 29, 2016 0 comments


By Kris Boesch

Choose People

I believe in trusting employees to be responsible adults.Kris_Boesch_Blog_Photo

I believe in getting rid of unnecessary process and bureaucracy.

I believe in promoting work as a part of life and life as a part of work. 

And so you would think I would believe in unlimited PTO (paid time off).  

And what I can tell you is, it depends. It depends on the unwritten rules of your culture. 

I’ve seen unlimited PTO result in guilt-ridden vacationers or burnt-out teams who are afraid if they take time off, they won’t get the raise or the promotion. 

This happens when a workplace culture:

  • Rewards the person who works the most hours
  • Publicly praises the person who arrives early and leaves late
  • Considers working on weekends a form of loyalty 

And let’s be clear – it’s in your best interest for your people to take vacation. Vacation inspires and motivates our work. There’s a sense of working hard to earn the right, the opportunity, to completely chill and be paid while doing it. Vacation allows your team to recharge, rejuvenate, and return to the rest of the team with cool stories of adventure and/or family connection. And these experiences often lead to creative connections and innovation.  

Know there are many ways to peel this orange besides unlimited PTO. One company - who really gets the cost of turnover - recruits and retains talent by offering a two-week sabbatical anywhere in the U.S. for the employee and their significant other after 2.5 years and a month-long sabbatical to anywhere in the world after 5 years:    

Paradoxically, boundaries often create freedom. And unless you have a workplace culture in which there is more collaboration than competition, and a focus on results over hours worked, be very cautious with unlimited PTO.

Kris Boesch

About the Author: Kris Boesch

Kris Boesch is CEO and founder of Choose People, a company that transforms company cultures, increases employee happiness and boosts the bottom-line. The Choose People 360° Culture Audit is based on over 1,000 hours of research Boesch conducted with a team of doctoral students in the Industrial Organizational Psychology Department at Colorado State University.  Prior to Choose People, Boesch was the CEO of Exodus Moving & Storage.  Under her leadership, Exodus became the largest mover in Northern Colorado with a turnover rate nearly 40% less than the industry average and a bottom line twice that same average.