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Unlimited PTO: Being Awesome in Work and Life

Oct 17, 2016

During my job hunt, I searched relentlessly for a company that viewed their employees as individuals and valued their ambitions outside of work. I knew that if I planned to stay at a company, I’d want to grow there for more than a few short years, and that it would have to understand that work is not life. It took me a pitiful three days into my search to realize that this seemed like an overly ambitious goal.

I began to lose hope after reading reviews of reputable companies—that, months before, I would’ve been unbearably proud to work for—with five-star ratings but unfavorable feedback from former employees. After five years, the best subject line one employee could muster was “Ok place”? After five years of committing my life and career growth to a company, I at least hoped to say that my workplace was a “good place.” This was the moment I jumped off aggregator job sites and sought out companies with values that aligned with mine. This route led me to much brighter places.

As I searched high and low (very low) for SEO openings, I wound up finding Workshop Digital, where I struck gold. One of our company’s values is: “We are empowered to be awesome in work and life.” And life.

Any company could boast this value but fall short after the contract was signed. So how did I know I wanted to submit my resume, call in, and beg and plead for a chance to prove myself? They offered something that I didn’t even know existed: unlimited paid time off. Although it may sound crazy that, as brand new employees, we have full control over how many days off we take each year with few limitations—well, it really is all that crazy. As of 2016, a mere 4% of companies in the United States offer this generous policy.

Our company mandates a methodology that contradicts how U.S. employees actually behave. In the latest analysis of vacation day use, U.S. employees hit the peak number of wasted paid time off days—658 million unused paid vacation days. Undervaluing vacation days has been a trend since the mid-1990s, with the average number of days taken by U.S. employees dropping from 20.3 to 16 in 2013.

Vacation days have intuitive psychological benefits, such as decreased depression, reduced stress levels, increased productivity, fulfillment in life outside of work, additional family time, and an overall higher sense of purpose in life. So why is this use at its lowest point in the last 40 years?

Because of people like the “loyal” employee who left the “Ok place” review for a company where he worked for five years. To this reviewer, it was okay that he was a peg in a cog at work. He simply went to work every morning and accomplished his given set of tasks with no opportunity to provide anything outside of his defined box. In his mind, he was lucky to even be given the X paid days off work. And hey, Jim in the cubicle next to him took only half his days off, and you don't want to look like a slacker and miss a promotion, do you?

Less time off from work only inserts more stress in employees’ lives. Those most dedicated to their careers overlook the value of detaching from work. Ironically, employees who do not take time off are usually those who need it most. Some 37% of employees are deterred from taking time off by the thought that they would return to a mountain of work, and 35% of these workaholics truly believe their work is so dependent on them that no one else can cover their job.

Ironically, employees who leave the majority of their PTO days on the table are 6.5% less likely to have received a bonus or a raise in the past three years, versus those who took every last dang day they were given. After a year and a half of living by the value "to be empowered in work and life,” we saw that employees were more successful and took less time off than expected.

4 things Unlimited PTO says to employees:

  1. You care about attracting top talent, even if it means losing some control: Granting your employees unlimited paid time off gives them all the power and responsibility of planning their work and lives. Not only is that a great message to rein in hundreds of resumes for your picking, it’s more than likely to attract those who can handle this work-life balance. If they can’t, it will show in their performance, which could end up saving you money in the long run.
  2. You want your employees to be happier (and more productive): In SHRM's survey of vacation's impact on the workplace, 75% of HR professionals agree or strongly agree that employees who take most or all of their paid time off (16 days, on average) are more likely to experience higher levels of job satisfaction, be more productive, and be more engaged at work compared to employees who take less vacation.
  3. You care about us as humans, not machines for revenue: Another review that stumped me in my search was one in which an employee felt that after seven years of service, “[It] seemed like a very long temp assignment and you were treated as such.” By encouraging employees to pursue their PTO passion, no matter how far or how long it takes them (as long as it's under three consecutive weeks at Workshop Digital), it conveys that well-being and development is valued over incessant workaholism.
  4. You want to work smarter, not harder: With any unlimited paid time off policy, you should have proper performance standards and expectations set before employees take extended vacations. This way you can weed out those who joined for the benefits of unlimited PTO rather than the success of the company. The latter will prepare enough ahead of time for a smooth departure and reduced workload impact upon return.

Although there are a multitude of long-term benefits for taking time off, unlimited PTO is not for every company. There have to be proper expectations and processes to avoid deterring overly-conscious employees from never taking any vacation days due to a lack of structure. Has your company offered or been considering switching to an unlimited PTO policy? Comment below and tell us about your experience!

Workshop Team