No Vacations for You!

Kylie Quetell Benefits, Business Development, Candidate Pool, Career Advice, Culture, Employee Development, employee experience, HR, Leadership, Managing People, Policies, Recruitment Marketing, Talent Strategy, Vacation, Work Life Balance 5 Comments

I received a job offer a while ago, and it was a good one. Part of the package included an awesome paid time off program. Unlimited.

That’s right folks, Unlimited PTO.

I can take as much time as I need, whenever I need it, vacations galore. If my wife and I decide to start a family, I can have unlimited time to spend at home with the baby. UNLIMITED.

There were a lot of benefits related to this career move, one of the biggest was that PTO program. I obviously took the job.

What’s the reality of this unlimited PTO policy? The reality is that I am going to take even fewer vacations than I used to. I am not going to take days unless I absolutely have to. This unlimited PTO program is actually stopping me from taking time off. Why? In my case, it is because there are no boundaries. I feel like if I take time off, I’m abusing the policy.

My wife and I talked about starting a family, and I decided that in my new role I wouldn’t actually take full weeks off immediately after birth, instead I would work from home, take a few days a week off, and go into the office at least once a week during that time.

What has happened to me?

In comparison, my old job offered three weeks of paid parental leave and I would have taken the full three weeks without hesitation.

Inc. wrote an article about unlimited PTO which I found to be insightful. It appears I’m not alone. After enacting an unlimited PTO program, some organizations reported their employees taking less time off. Alas, that is not always the case. Sometimes employees will abuse the system, others don’t change their vacation practices at all. I’m lumped in with the group of do-goody weirdos that wants to follow unwritten rules.

So what can we as people professionals do?

Fast Company published an article in collaboration with a company called Mammoth in which there were best practices suggested.

These are my favorite suggestions:

  • Reword “unlimited PTO.” I’m leaning towards their recommendation to call it “responsible PTO.” I love this, and it is something that I am going to explore working into our internal company language.
  • Weave your PTO policy into your culture and values. This gives all parties the right language to use as well as the ability to justify vacation approval or declines.
  • Stop looking at hours worked, and instead measure impact. The article communicated this by looking at “contribution vs clock.”

One of my responsibilities in my new role is to create and maintain our PTO policies. I’m all in, and ready to make changes to the language that we use. What won’t I be doing? I will not take away our unlimited/responsible PTO program. There are three main reasons why:  

  1. It is an awesome way to attract talent (it worked on me).
  2. No one in our organization is abusing it and I trust them all to do the right thing.
  3. I selfishly don’t feel like tracking time off…what a pain in the ass.

I believe we have a responsibility to get creative with our benefits, including vacation time.

More and more people are citing work/life flexibility as a huge factor in their workplace decisions. If we take the time to choose the right words and weave benefits into our culture, all parties could win.

As for myself – I am consciously looking at my calendar and planning out vacations up to a year in advance. This will force me to take the time that I need to stay mentally healthy (and also keep my wife happy).

Kylie Quetell

Kylie Quetell is an Organizational Development professional, focusing on people, strategy, and process (notice that “people” is listed first). She is a Vice President and a phenomenal public speaker, coach, and leader. She holds a Masters Degree in Educational Leadership and certifications in Leadership Development and Change Management.

Kylie was formally a national champion rugby player, and has coached high school and women’s club sports. She has also volunteered her time working with Veterans and for environmental causes.

A Maine native, Kylie brings a love for salty language to her current home in Metro Detroit where she lives with her wife, dog, and cat.

Comments 5

  1. Great article! I’m familiar with this issue with unlimited PTO, and it’s disappointing to see so many places see the whole “people take less vacation with unlimited PTO” issue and assume it’s a problem with unlimited PTO. It’s not! It’s a problem with setting expectations. I’m in favor of unlimited PTO that has guidelines. “In general, we want you to feel comfortable asking for and taking time off when you need to. We require a minimum of one week off per year, and recommend two non-consecutive weeks. Three weeks is great. Four, you’re pushing it, but if you and your team is still getting things done, more power to you.” Or whatever.

    At that point, the problem is usually management; you can offer unlimited PTO all you want, it doesn’t matter if your staff’s requests are constantly denied by their managers. And that’s often the core issue that organizations know they have, and either don’t know how to solve it or don’t bother trying.

    Unlimited PTO is so good! But it’s not something you can just set and forget, for sure. But I’d rather do the cultural work of helping people feel comfortable taking time off (and figuring out how to make their teams run when people are out) than spend that time updating spreadsheets and trying to calculate if I’ll have enough accrual 2 months from now for the vacation I’d like to book today!

    1. Kylie Quetell Post

      Yes, Kim! Thank you for your comment. I love everything you said. It starts with culture and communication.

  2. Pingback: The Pros & Cons of Unlimited PTO: HR Expert Roundtable - BambooHR Blog

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