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Ways to Make Unlimited PTO Actually Work

When’s the last time you took time off of work?

Now’s a great time of year to talk about unlimited PTO! Yep, that's right, we're diving into the world of vacation days that never run out, but before you pack your bags and jet off to the tropics, let's have a little chat.

Over the past few years, more companies have tried their hand at the unlimited PTO model. Sounds like a dream come true, right? Well, not so fast. It turns out that employees at organizations with unlimited PTO actually take less time off.

While unlimited PTO has the potential to be a game-changer for employees and companies alike, it can also morph into a curse if not handled with care. Picture this: employees feeling guilty about taking time off or being afraid to be seen as slackers, leading to a work culture that's more burned out than a campfire after a long night of s'mores.

That's the last thing any company wants, and that's why we're here to talk about making unlimited PTO actually work.

Now, grab your sunglasses and a cold drink, because we've got some real-life HR professionals ready to share their secrets to success when it comes to unlimited PTO. From having managers lead by example to creating a time-off encouraging culture, these pros have got the inside scoop on how to turn that unlimited PTO dream into a reality. So, let's dive in and see what they have to say!

  • Establish a Time-Off Buddy System
  • Hold Quarterly PTO Meetings
  • Promote Work-Life Balance
  • Implement Mandatory Minimum Time Off
  • Set and Monitor PTO Goals
  • Managers Lead by Example
  • Create a Time-Off Encouraging Culture
  • Plan and Request Time Off Wisely
  • Schedule Downtime Between Projects

Establish a Time-Off Buddy System

One effective strategy to ensure employees with unlimited PTO take time off is to implement a "Time-Off Buddy" system within the team. 

This involves pairing up employees and assigning them the responsibility of reminding and encouraging each other to take time off regularly. The buddies can help each other plan their vacations, ensuring that their workloads are manageable and deadlines are met before taking time off. 

This approach not only fosters a supportive work environment but also helps employees feel accountable for their own and their buddy's well-being, thereby promoting a healthy work-life balance.

Adalyn McCall, Co-founder and HR Head, MrPlanter

three people talking at a table

Hold Quarterly PTO Meetings

In order to ensure that employees are taking time off, we have quarterly meetings with each individual employee to discuss their goals and how taking time off will benefit them. The feedback we get is that they appreciate being able to set their own PTO schedule and taking off when they need to.

Matthew Ramirez, CEO, Paraphrase Tool

Implement Mandatory Minimum Time Off

With unlimited PTO, ensuring that employees actually take time off can be a challenge. One effective strategy we've implemented is setting a mandatory minimum time off policy. 

By requiring employees to take a certain number of days off each year, we encourage a culture of taking breaks and prioritizing self-care. This mandatory minimum not only helps prevent burnout but also reinforces the importance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance. 

In addition, regular check-ins with managers and promoting a supportive environment that values time off can further motivate employees to utilize their unlimited PTO.

Tarun Saha, Co-founder and CEO, StallionZo

Set and Monitor PTO Goals

We give everyone a PTO goal and send quarterly emails about each employee's progress toward the goal. The goal is somewhat arbitrary, but it gives the team something to measure against since we don't accrue PTO days/hours. We encourage the team to take the occasional Monday or Friday off to extend their weekends and spend the day doing something they enjoy.

Rebekah Hayes, Project Manager, collystring

person sitting in lotus position

Managers Lead by Example

As an HR leader, it is crucial to encourage employees to take time off while also ensuring that they do not feel guilty or pressured to do so.

One strategy that I use is to encourage managers to lead by example and take time off regularly themselves. When employees see their leaders prioritizing their own well-being and taking time off, they are more likely to follow suit. Additionally, we use communication tools to remind employees to take time off and highlight the benefits of doing so.

According to a study by Project: Time Off, 52% of American workers did not use all of their vacation time in 2017, and as a result, forfeited 705 million unused vacation days. This highlights the importance of proactive efforts to encourage employees to take time off and recharge.

A real-life example of this strategy in action is the employee management software company, BambooHR, which has a policy of mandatory vacation time for all employees.

Himanshu Sharma, CEO and Founder, Academy of Digital Marketing

Create a Time-Off Encouraging Culture

Make sure from the recruitment side (especially externally) that your company is selling ALL of the benefits and talking them up, whether in digital assets or on career/LinkedIn pages.

Then, make it a part of the culture to give employees the opportunity to want to take time off. Making them feel as if taking time off is a "bad" thing and they will be looked upon as "not productive members of the workforce" is definitely not a good way to portray it. 

Each manager has a responsibility to want their teams to have a work/life balance and remind them by having those conversations. The culture of work/life balance should be felt and heard at all levels of the organization.

Finally, people leaders can play a part in pushing employees to request time off. When I send out our company's monthly newsletter, I like to drop in places to visit, savings perks to theme parks, and even special deals in upcoming months to get people motivated to take advantage of not only the time off but other perks the company offers.

Charles Mangino, Head of People, Culture and DEI, Decusoft

person holding a briefcase leaving room with clock in background

Plan and Request Time Off Wisely

If you have unlimited PTO, it’s best to plan your annual vacation time in advance, whether it's a few times a year or long weekends off, and then request the time off from work. Unlimited PTO does not mean that you can take a week off from work every month, so use it wisely and schedule time away from the office with the approval of management.

Lindsay Duston, CPRW, Chief Human Resources Officer, Find My Profession

Schedule Downtime Between Projects

As a recruiter, I see a lot of unnecessary turnover because of burnout. Often, companies are baffled to discover that unlimited PTO isn't necessarily a solution to the problem.

Good employees won't want to step away in the middle of a deadline. If you're not scheduling downtime in between projects, you'll have difficulty encouraging workers to take time off.

Work with a scheduling professional to find a rhythm that feels natural but is actually quite regimented. Different departments should have staggered high times to ensure everyone gets a chance for a break.

Don't assume it will happen without effort, especially in larger companies. Implementing PTO is only the first step.

Linn Atiyeh, CEO, Bemana

Dealing with No Limits

Well, we've taken a journey through the ins and outs of making unlimited PTO actually work, and it's clear that it's all about striking the right balance.

From managers leading by example to fostering a culture that encourages time off, it takes a little bit of planning, communication, and good old-fashioned teamwork to turn that seemingly endless vacation dream into a well-functioning reality. So, as you embark on your own unlimited PTO adventure, remember to keep the needs of your employees and your company in mind, and you'll be well on your way to success.

As the sun sets on this topic, let's not forget that the goal of unlimited PTO is to create a more satisfied, more productive, and more engaged workforce. When implemented effectively, it can be a powerful tool in your HR arsenal. So, stay inspired, stay open to new ideas, and most importantly, stay committed to creating a work environment where employees can truly thrive.

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Alex Sumner