How to Weigh the Good & the Bad When It Comes to Unlimited Time Off

Certain company perks can’t be beat. A stocked snack counter, in-office massages, catered lunches, or an onsite barista are all things that make going to the office more of a treat than a chore. Nowadays, employees value these feel-good benefits more than ever—especially if unlimited time off is in the mix.

In fact, a Glassdoor survey reported that 79% of employees prefer new or additional benefits to an actual pay increase. No offense to the masseuse or barista, but unlimited time off just has an extra edge. In that same Glassdoor survey, paid vacation time was ranked second as a most-valued benefit—right behind health insurance.

For MammothHR, this was also the case. The small, on-call team tested out unlimited time off and saw employees praising the choice left and right. It even beat out dental insurance and professional development.

As with anything, there are pros (uhhh … did you hear us say unlimited vacation?) and cons. Let’s look at some of the benefits, drawbacks, and everything else you need to know about helping implement or simply using this new phenomenon.

Three Pros of Unlimited Time Off

Why exactly would a company want to offer an unlimited vacation policy? For many, it comes down to these heavy hitters.

1. Engaged & Happy Employees

Companies are most successful when employees are invested in their work and satisfied with their jobs. Offering unlimited PTO is a surefire way to accomplish that without causing burnout.

Work-life balance has become an increasingly important issue for many employees. They desire to be viewed as whole human beings—rather than one person in the office, and another outside of normal working hours. An unlimited time-off arrangement tells employees they’re valued and trusted as people—not just workers.

2. A Flexible Culture

A family emergency, a case of the sniffles, or an afternoon dentist appointment. Typically, these are situations where employees would have to request off for while pulling days from the summer lakehouse. This isn’t the case with an unlimited PTO policy.

Offering uncapped time off fosters a culture of flexibility, where employees can escape the office when needed. It comes as no surprise that flexible scheduling has also significantly increased in value to employees over the past few years.

3. Cost Savings

Alright, all of that sounds nice, but ultimately you know decision-makers still care about the bottom line. As it turns out, an unlimited time off is helpful in this regard as well.

Compared to many countries around the world, Americans don’t take that much vacation. Average workers with unpaid time off typically leave three days on the table. Since this is time that gets paid out to employees when they change jobs or retire, it’s pretty costly for employers.

Fortunately for the company budget, an uncapped policy removes the average vacation liability, which—according to Oxford Economics—saves companies approximately $1,898 per employee. Pretty hefty savings, right?

Two Cons of Unlimited Vacation

Voting for unlimited time off sounds like it’s straight out of an employment fantasy, but there are a few downsides.

1. Less Time Off

If people have unlimited paid vacation time, wouldn’t they be hightailing it out of the office every chance they got? How could they possibly take less time off? Those are valid questions.

Believe it or not, some companies that began offering unlimited vacation days found that employees actually took less time off. Kickstarter, for example, rescinded the policy when they discovered that employees felt paralyzed—rather than empowered—by the lack of guidelines.

2. It’s Difficult to Manage

At first glance, unlimited vacation seems like it’d be relatively easy to regulate—it’s just a free-for-all party, right?

In reality, this policy can present some real challenges from a managerial standpoint. Perhaps a certain department requires at least one person to be present during all working days and hours while another department doesn’t have that same need. Maybe two employees want to take off at the same time, even though one of them needs to be there to keep the lights on.

Imagine this scenario in a Ninja role, especially if the admin team is tight to begin with. It can quickly turn into a logistical nightmare. Without documented and refined guidelines to reference, unlimited time off becomes increasingly difficult to keep track of—and Ninjas are often the ones handling it.

Dealing With an Unlimited Vacation Policy

High points and low points aside, unlimited time off can also be surprisingly confusing. When team members self-regulate, they’re often unsure of how much time is too much time.

If you’re pushing for—or experiencing—an uncapped vacation policy, keep these key tips in mind.

1. Get the Work Done

Remember that element of trust that comes along with unlimited vacation? Your company provides that benefit with one caveat: you’re still self-motivated enough to complete your to-do list.

This policy doesn’t give you a free pass to jet out of the office whenever you’ve got tons of work on your plate. Always make sure you, or the team you support, get things accomplished before capitalizing on the perk.

2. Don’t Hesitate to Ask

Feeling worried about the lack of guidelines? Never shy away from flat-out asking the head honcho for a little bit of advice.

While the policy may be unlimited, are there a certain number of days that most people take each year? Is there a time of year you should avoid? There’s no shame in asking questions to get the information you need. In fact, your supervisor will likely appreciate your conscientiousness.

3. Communicate Effectively

There’s one thing that an unlimited PTO policy doesn’t change—the importance of communication. If you work in a traditional office, you probably wouldn’t fly off to Bermuda for two weeks without giving any of your co-workers a heads up.

That same rule still applies. When planning to take time off, it’s best to loop in other team members so that everyone has time to tie up necessary loose ends.

Unlimited vacation policies have been growing in popularity—particularly amongst startups. However, this seemingly drool-worthy perk isn’t always rainbows and sunshine. Remember these pros, cons, and tips to deal with the progressive policy, whether you’re cashing in yourself or helping bring it to your team.

Does your office have unlimited time off? Have you contributed to developing your team’s vacation plan? Share your insights below!

Kat Boogaard

Kat is a Wisconsin-based freelance writer and blogger. Before running away from her cubicle and pursuing the freelance life, she worked as the office ninja for several organizations and loved being the one that kept everything on track! Now, she spends her days cranking out content for a variety of publications and businesses. When she's not cross-eyed behind her computer, she's probably reading, hiking with her husband, or baby-talking her rescued terrier mutt.

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