Why We Have an Unlimited PTO Policy

 

“What are your office hours?”, he asked.

“Well, we don’t have an office. Let’s start there.”, I began. “We haven’t had an office since December of 2018, and I don’t see us ever going back.”

“How do you know if your team is maintaining normal work hours?”, he continued.

Normal work hours? What even is that?

“Well, as far as I can tell, we’re all working half days – 6 AM to 6 PM”, I replied with a welcoming chuckle, in hopes of getting a laugh in return. It never came.

Tough crowd.

And I hadn’t even gotten to our unlimited PTO policy, yet!

“Well, how do you track hours then?”, he asked with a scrutinous look.

“We don’t. We track output. We’re a team that holds ourselves accountable for getting the work done, when we said it would get done. If that takes all night or all weekend, so be it. But if we have to track hours, we’ve hired the wrong people.”, I replied.  

I could tell I was getting testy.

“Tell me about your PTO policy.”, he requested in a snide tone, as if pursuing “checkmate”.

“We don’t have one.”, I replied.

“What?”, he fired back in disbelief.

“We don’t have one.”, I affirmed.

“You don’t have one?”, he continued, in a condescending tone.

“Nope. We have unlimited PTO for our team.”, I replied.

Followed by an uncomfortable exchange of bank stares.

Checkmate.

 

Why We have an Unlimited PTO Policy

We live in a time when we’re always connected. We can communicate with anyone and everyone, from anywhere, at any time.

We’re on vacation, sitting by the pool. Our phone is on the table, next to that book we’ve been meaning to read. Our phone buzzes. Instead of picking up that book, we pick up our phone, just to see what it might be. It’s an email that only takes a minute to reply to or forward to a teammate. Done.

45 minutes later, we do it again.

2 hours later, we do it again.

And the next day, before the kids get up and demand we take them to the beach, we log on to our laptop and set up a few meetings or work on a proposal that is due when we get back.

Remind me again when “normal working hours” are?

The notion of limited PTO days based on tenure is passé. We’ve all been there. We get three weeks of PTO each year, based on how long we’ve been with the company. But next year we’ll need an extra week so we can take that special trip our family has always wanted to take. But to do so, we have to “carry over” a week of PTO. Which means this year, we can only use two of our three weeks of PTO. So even though we might get sick or exhausted or need a mental health day or have to be home with a sick child, we won’t be able to take that time off if we want to go on that trip next year.

There’s nothing more uninspiring than to have to “save up” PTO days so we can take some extra time off.

Do we seriously want our people – our most valued asset – to behave that way?

The work we live in is no longer conducive to those rigid HR policies and procedures of old.

We live in the world of constant change, fast pace and in some instances, total chaos. It’s demanding. And it’s especially demanding on high performers who struggle to turn it off. They struggle to turn it off not because of pride or ego or martyrdom. It’s because of their extreme sense of accountability.

Accountability to their team.

Accountability to their customers.

And when you have a team of high performers (as we do), the concern is not about the work getting done. Instead, the concern is about them shutting off the work and getting away to rest and recharge.

The concern is burnout. The last thing we need as business leaders is to lose our best talent because of burnout.

Which is why we have an “unlimited” PTO policy.

That’s right – unlimited.

An unlimited PTO policy allows our team to take the time they need, when they need it, to recharge. Because when we work at the pace we do and with the pressures that we do, we never know when that day will come when we just need a break. When we just need a day to do what we call “The 5 Rs”:

  • Retreat
  • Reflect
  • Refine
  • Recharge
  • Re-engage

 

But What About Abuse?

There’s no doubt having an unlimited PTO policy can be scary. We instantly gravitate to the image of someone disappearing for six weeks and not letting anyone know. And then referring to the company’s unlimited PTO policy as their defense.

That’s not how it works.

There are expectations that come with an Unlimited PTO policy. For example:

  • It requires advanced notice requesting the time off, as best they can.
  • It also requires coordination and assurance that the work will get done in their absence.
  • It also does not replace FMLA or short-term disability.
  • Time off is still recorded and tracked in our PTO system.

Perhaps more importantly, though, having an unlimited PTO policy has enhanced our culture:

  1. It’s heightened our level of accountability to each other, knowing that abusing such a privilege would be catastrophic to our team and our customers.
  2. It’s increased our level of teamwork, ensuring everyone can back-up and support everyone at any time, for when the time comes for someone to take time off as needed.

Having an unlimited PTO policy brings to light if you’ve hired the right people. More specifically, it will expose whether you have a team that is accountable and if you have a team you trust.

Our culture is predicated on the ideas of freedom and responsibility, where everyone has the freedom to think outside the box and make the most of their roles. But with that freedom comes responsibility, a responsibility to consistently live our values, starting with accountability.

Ultimately, we want fewer HR policies, not more.

We want our culture to attract and enable high performers, so they can thrive in the chaos and pace of change of our environment.  

And if there are no boundaries for when we work, then we should have no boundaries for when we rest.

 

Additional Resources:

Harvard Business Review - 3 Tips to Avoid WFH Burnout: https://hbr.org/2020/04/3-tips-to-avoid-wfh-burnout


 Chad Eddy, MBA, is the CEO at Indium. He has more than 25 years of multifaceted, multi-industry experience. In addition to serving independent agents, Chad is passionate about spending time with his family, playing and watching hockey, listening to good music, reading, and raising money for cystic fibrosis research.