the dark side of “unlimited” vacation time

A reader writes:

We’re thinking about implementing an unlimited paid time off program in my company, where if you need a day, or a week, you take the time and aren’t bound by a certain number of weeks you can take in a year. Certainly there are a ton of considerations in doing this. I’m interested in knowing what you think of this and whether there might be unintended consequences that we haven’t thought of.

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 229 comments… read them below }

  1. DecorativeCacti*

    I can see something like this totally imploding at my organization. It just wouldn’t work with the staff we have, but specifically some of the managers. My own boss tries to shame us when we take sick leave. I don’t think it’s intentional, but she’s the type to show up to work no matter what (even with pink eye!) so any absence and we kind of get the side eye. We’re also unionized so I don’t know how that would affect an unlimited vacation policy.

    1. Scary, much?*

      This is my great fear! “Unlimited” in policy that becomes none in practice because of bad managers.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        Research has proven that companies that have the unlimited policy have people who take less vacation.

        1. Karen D*

          Or even just more PTO, I suspect.

          Our parent company made a big honkin’ deal of giving everybody an extra week of PTO. But there are very few people here with any kind of seniority who use all the time they are allotted.

          I am positive that there’s a spreadsheet out there somewhere demonstrating that this policy is going to cost them – averaged on a per-employee basis – tens of dollars a year (if that!)

          1. MsCHX*

            No, the studies actually show that “unlimited” pools = less time taken (call it vacation, PTO, sick…) than if people are assigned a specific amount.

            1. Psychdoc*

              I’ve heard about those same studies. If I recall, the problem is that people tend to be afraid of abusing the system or being viewed as taking too much time off, so they just don’t take the time. So it seems like the better option may just be to have a very generous PTO bank available.

      2. Venus Supreme*

        We have a lax vacation policy here – basically, unofficial unlimited PTO – which results in nobody taking time off. Boss came in with a stomach virus and now I have it… and the message I got from it is that if she didn’t take time off, I shouldn’t either. Which is ten types of messed up.

        1. SAS Error - it was the ;*

          I hate people who are so proud of not taking sick leave that they come in and share their pathogenic wealth with all

          1. Hlyssande*

            I have a coworker who does this, and it’s super gross to hear him hacking and coughing throughout the day.

            We get a week of paid sick time every year separate to our accruing vacation – and he hasn’t taken any sick time at all in the last 8 years at the very least. He takes pride in it, and it drives me crazy.

          2. The OG Anonsie*

            And give it to people who aren’t as resilient or healthy, who then get at least as ill (but often worse), then get an attitude when those people need some time off.


            1. MsCHX*

              :grumble: I had one of these people many moons ago, when I was a single mom with a 1 and 3 year old.

              I CANNOT come to work when I’m sick. I will just stay sick because, no down time. So while I would really like people to keep their germs at home anyway…I also couldn’t “power through” a day and then go home and pass out.
              I think I’m still mad about her nasty reactions…

        2. TrainerGirl*

          My company has unlimited time off, but I have a great boss, who doesn’t live in the US, and that helps a lot. Since other countries typically take way more time off than we do here, I don’t find that people use less leave. My boss actually had a talk with me about using MORE leave. He told me how much time folks on the team typically take and asked me to find some more vacation days. That was a first! If we were not international, I don’t know if things would work the same way. I was very reluctant to take much time in my first year, as I started right after Labor Day, but this year I will be taking significantly more time. It’s nice to know that people generally take a month off for their weddings and no one bats an eye.

    2. Bwmn*

      In addition to bad manager – I also think a company needs to be honest on the nature of how management is perceived across an organization. Our office has no telework policy, and so if/when certain staff does work from home it’s based on the relationship they have with their manager and the perception is that it’s very personality based and not policy based (as no policy exists….). So would this policy mean that certain “favored” departments will be seen has forever getting early leave on Fridays, random days off, and extensive vacation – whereas other departments will struggle for what they request?

      Additionally, my greatest fear with such a policy would be that “company preferable” times would be pushed for time off. My department is almost entirely dead from Christmas through New Year’s – however, having that time off isn’t all that relevant for me as a non-Christian who doesn’t have children who would be out of school and it’s an overall pricier time of year to travel. And if my organization were to be like – hey a big chunk of your time off is this period that works great for us! – that’s also not appealing to me. It’s not a pushback around blackout times, but rather being told I’m getting “all” of this time off when the reality is the time I’m getting off isn’t dictated by my calendar but rather the company’s.

      1. Kyrielle*

        Enh, I also worked for a company at one point that provided a fixed amount of vacation but required most personnel (certain essential coverage positions exempt) to take the time around Christmas and New Year’s off. You could either use vacation, or take it unpaid if your vacation balance was too low to take it paid.

        One fine year that was 7 days mandated off…and if you’d been there two years or less, you only accrued 10 days a year. Fun times.

        Which is to say, mandatory time off coming out of a pool of time (whether that pool is finite or not) is horrible, but not strictly tied to policies like this.

        1. Bwmn*

          The difference though is that in such a company you hear (or at least should hear) about that situation prior to accepting a job. With unlimited time, you may not necessarily be aware of that until you start or based on whatever manager you have.

          1. Kyrielle*

            Well, they instituted it in the middle of one year (I think August or so), so everyone was surprised that year. I…I think I remember new hires being surprised the next year or two, but I may be mis-remembering that part. (And then the rule went away again. Apparently it was unpopular.)

        2. Honeybee*

          I just think that is so miserly. If you want to close your business around Christmas and New Year’s…just give those days as company-wide holidays to your employees!

        3. MsCHX*

          We have a generous PTO policy and we close between Christmas and New Year. However, if someone starts that calendar year, we give them free days to cover the part (or all) of the closure (which is a max 4 days as Christmas Eve and Day, and New Years Day, are paid). So someone starting Q1 would get 1 free day, Q2=2 days and so on.

        4. Workfromhome*

          My last job moved to this type of thing. Big announcement that the office would be “closed” over the holidays except for a skeleton support crew so that people could “enjoy time with family” then in small print “You must use vacation time to cover these days we are closed”.
          We had a couple new hires that basically had to go “in the hole” on their vacation allowance because of this. The impact on morale was horrific. even people who had lots of vacation time and had already planned to book those days off were ticked off just by the sheer principal. I worked from home and said as much. If the office was “closed” due to storm or some other issue I was still expected to work. So why should I have to use vacation unless I want to for an office closure that doesn’t impact me? Its not like I couldn’t work if I wanted to.

        5. Julie Noted*

          Our office is shut down between Christmas and New Years Day, inclusive, so everyone gets the week off on full pay. In addition to 20 days annual leave to be used throughout the rest of the year.


      2. The OG Anonsie*

        Oh yeah, this was a thing somewhere I used to work as well. Some whole management chains had modified schedules (4/10, regular scheduled WFH days, leaving early to finish work from home later, things like that) because their grand-bosses were all cool with it, then some others weren’t ever allowed to do any work from home or change their schedules for any reason because someone in their chain didn’t like that. Company policy either didn’t exist or was “management has discretion,” which meant lots of people who worked directly on a regular basis had wildly different expectations and leeway with what they were able to do.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I am enraged at the idea that she would come to work with pink-eye. That stuff is contagious. Stay home!

      (If you’re unionized, I suspect that the unlimited vacation policy would have to be integrated into your CBA to apply.)

    4. Unlucky Bear*

      Jesus. One morning at my last job, I slowly came to the realization that I had pinkeye. I mentioned it to my boss and was promptly thrown out of the office. They nearly burned my cubicle down. I was forbidden to come near the office for the rest of the week.

      1. RabbitRabbit*

        I used to work in an eye clinic and brought in my husband one morning to be evaluated. Out of fear of having to re-sanitize the exam room she’d just worked on, one colleague sort-of-not-really-jokingly told me to put him in a different exam room area that someone else was in charge of. :P (He did have an eye infection, but not pinkeye, aka conjunctivitis. It wasn’t contagious but was actually damaging his eye when it was unchecked.)

    5. Koko*

      I favor a hybrid approach where you have a set amount of vacation, but managers have discretion to give extra leave to high performers on a case-by-case basis. You get the flexibility but also still establish a norm and retain PTO payout.

      1. Not Rebee*

        This could totally backfire though if you’re not on good terms with your manager. Regardless of your performance level, if you’re on bad terms with your manager and need that flexibility you’re gonna be SOL if your boss is a jerk. Of course, there’s the added issue that your boss is a jerk so it’s probably best to find somewhere else to work where your boss isn’t a jerk but still..

        1. sstabeler*

          not really- a manager that’s enough of a jerk to screw people out of extra PTO is also enough of a jerk to screw people on the PTO they already get.

    6. Jaydee*

      I don’t think being unionized would necessarily preclude having an unlimited vacation policy. It would just have to be part of the collective bargaining agreement if vacation and leave time are currently part of what is bargained. It sounds like at your organization the bigger issue is that managers have to do away with the mindset that physical presence is a reliable indicator of performance and productivity. If the manager isn’t really sure how to measure “good work” from an employee, they are more likely to fall back on easily observable but not strictly accurate measures like number of absences.

      Of course, the flip side of this is setting performance requirements that effectively prevent people from using vacation leave even though on paper they have unlimited vacation. For example, assume that Teapots Inc. custom makes between 275 and 300 chocolate teapots a day. All teapots must be inspected before they can be shipped, and the expectation is that orders will ship within 2 business days of when the teapots are made. If a teapot quality tech can inspect approximately 50 teapots a day and there are 6 teapot quality techs employed, it’s going to be really hard to take time off work. Not impossible – if there are still 5 teapot quality techs there, they can probably manage to inspect 55 or 60 teapots each that day, or a few teapots can be held over for inspection the next day. Someone who’s sick for a day or two? Not a huge deal. But longer vacations – a week or two at a time – will mean a 10-20% increase in the workload of the remaining employees for that whole time. So everyone feels the pressure not to take time off even though Teapots Inc. has an unlimited vacation policy.

  2. Arduino*

    I really wish our company would implement this. Right now it is by years in company only. So a janitor that has been here 20 years gets 2 months vacation a years but a sr systems administrator who has been with the company a year only gets 3 weeks. Very challenging on the high stress roles.

    And our products is rolled in with sick days so it’s 15 days to be ill and go on vacation.

    1. Turquoise Cow*

      Yeah, I briefly worked at a place that combined sick with vacation time, and I didn’t like it. If I get sick, and need to be out for an extended period of time, that means I might not be able to go on vacation? No, thanks. Being sick is not a vacation.

      1. Anon For This*

        See I love having combined time, but that’s only because I work for an organization that gives you a decent amount. I used to work for a hospital that provided new employee’s with 15 days of PTO. It was ridiculous. Everyone came in sick because they didn’t want to waste their PTO on sick days because there was so little of it. My current employer provides all new employees with 25 days of PTO, which gives most people plenty to take off for minor illnesses etc.

        1. Solidus Pilcrow*

          Having enough time is key if you have vacation and sick time in one bucket. My company switched to DTO (discretionary time off) this year, but before then, employees 1-3 years accrued 120 hours (3 weeks) time . That roughly works out to 2 weeks vacation and 1 week sick time, which seems fair enough (for the US).

          I would avoid a company that only offered 80 hours combined time if I had any other options.

          1. The IT Manager*

            I don’t know. I feel like some employees would always expect to take the full amount of PTO as vacation so there will always be some that come in when sick. I think separating it out helps with that (and creates other problems like people lying about being sick).

            1. The IT Manager*

              … in order to use up all their sick leave rather than saving it for when they’re actually sick or taking care of medical issues.)

        2. RabbitRabbit*

          This. Plus I work at a hospital so someone has to be here 24-7 for most roles, from doctors to food service to janitors. As a result, all our holidays are lumped in with PTO as well. We can carry over a month’s worth at a time.

        3. MashaKasha*

          I would love to have combined time, but that’s because we can WFH with minor illnesses, and I almost never get so sick that I cannot either WFH or come in. I lose sick days every year… It sucks! But I guess I am okay with taking that hit so the people in other groups, who cannot work from home, can have actual sick time.

        4. The Milk Is Not User Friendly*

          Ugh, this is one of the reasons why I think I will NEVER move to the US. It might be great for all sorts of things (and I do think it is, and when I was younger I did think about emigrating), but I love my time off. I currently get 25 days holiday a year, plus the option to buy an additional 5 days (so you take the time off unpaid, but it gets spread throughout the year, instead of that pay period). I also get extremely generous (compared to the US) sick leave, that doesn’t come out of your holiday. There’s also an EU directive that states that if you fall sick during your holiday, as long as you can prove you were ill (probably a doctor’s note, I’ve never enquired), then you can claim that as sick time not holiday time. I don’t quite understand that (especially given how generous our time off actually is), but I know of a couple of people who’ve had the balls to claim. I just can’t imagine how I would cope if I only had 10 to 15 days off in total, sick and holiday combined. And no contracts!! Yeah, I can’t imagine working in the US (unless I was working for a UK or EU-owned company, and had my UK/EU contract in place before going!)

      2. k*

        I actually much prefer it that way. I had a previous job where they were separate. Sick days days could be called in the day of, but vacation days had to be approved X days in advance. If you happened to have a longish illness and used up the “sick” days, you were screwed because you couldn’t dip into the vacation days if you got sick again.

        1. Karen D*

          We have that policy too, but if someone ends up long-term sick they can be approved to use vacay/PTO to keep their paychecks coming.

          So basically, approval in advance … that can be granted retroactively. Kind of a “how now chop-logic” situation but it tends to work out.

      3. paul*

        I like the one pot, if it’s a reasonably sized pot. Easier to keep track of and manage but it needs to be a fair amount of time

    2. Bunny*

      I hop you didn’t mean this the way it came across, but that custodian’s work is just as valid as your sr. system administrator.

          1. Chinook*

            Ditto. Some things, like institutional knowledge, can only be earned with experience. That is what years of experience = amount of time off rewards. Not everybody should get the same salary, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with everyone with the same amount of time at one job should be getting the same amount of vacation.

            Plus, anyone who doesn’t think a janitor’s job isn’t stressful has never cleaned washrooms or office kitchens for a living.

      1. MashaKasha*

        Thirded or whatever. How else can vacation time be set up, anyway? I am not sure I’d want to work at a place where a custodian gets a lower level of benefits than a white-collar professional, for no reason other than they are a custodian. Thankfully, no such place exists that I am aware of.

      2. Arduino*

        Sure – but there is a difference in stress between an accountant and the CEO. I think that should be taken into account besides just plain years.

        I once worked at a place with a tiered system – salary levels 0 – 5 got 3 to 12 weeks based on years levels 6 – 7 5 – 12 etc. Much like salary bands.

    3. Backroads*

      I’m in education and personally love having pooled PTO. Otherwise it’s so limiting… work with small snot-nosed children but only take off so many sick days. I feel like I’m being treated as an adult with an outside life with pooled PTO.

    4. Anonymous Educator*

      I’ve never really understood the seniority-based vacation allowance. I get they want to reward people who’ve been there longer, but when you are long-time employee, you don’t suddenly have less work to do than someone who’s been there only a year or two. And if the employer is confident all efficient and hard-working employees can get everything done in 10 months, why can’t all employees get 2 months off? If the nature of the job is different, then base the time off on the nature of the job and not the tenure of the employee.

      Seems like an extension of the idea that employees have to be here exactly from this hour to that hour and can’t ever be on Ask a Manager, even if they get all their work done. Face time matters more than productivity many places…

      1. paul*

        I really don’t see a problem with trying to encourage people to stick with a company. Plus, while more senior employees may have more responsibilities A: that isn’t a given, and B: they’re also more likely to be more efficient than someone still learning a job. I know I’m a lot quicker now at my job than when I started, and able to do the work better as well.

        1. Anonymous Educator*

          Then reward people who are efficient. That may correlate with people who are at the company longer, but it won’t be an exact 1:1 match. Everyone’s worked at an organization with some veteran employee who’s inefficient as hell but gets tons of benefits just from having been there a long time.

          1. ChrysantheMumsTheWord*

            I can’t even imagine trying to administer time off policies and accruals where everyone is accruing based on their role and their efficiency, not to mention how challenging it would be to quantify that.

            1. Anonymous Educator*

              And yet that’s often how titles, promotions, raises, and bonuses work.

      2. RabbitRabbit*

        My company has you earn those PTO hours at a slower rate for the first 6(?) months or so, but after that, everyone has the same amount of PTO time that they can earn.

      3. Recruit-o-rama*

        Turnover is expensive. Really really expensive. Having policies and perks in place that reward long term employees is one way to alleviate the cost of constant churn.

        1. Anonymous Educator*

          You can reward long-term employees without giving them ridiculously large amounts of vacation time and giving new employees ridiculously small amounts of vacation time. Yes, turnover is expensive, and if new employees feel they have to be there 10 years in order to get a decent amount of vacation time, those new employees will leave, and that turnover will also be expensive.

          Most places I’ve worked are extremely lop-sided when it comes to vacation. New employees get 10 days for the first few years (either 3 or 5) and then employees who’ve been there for decades have more time than they can use and more than they can even accrue.

          1. Honeybee*

            I guess the ideal would be to give new people a decent amount of vacation and then increase it as you go up. I could get feeling shortchanged if I only have 10 days of PTO. Right now, I have 15, and that’s enough so that I don’t feel like it’s completely unfair that the guy who’s been here 15 years has 25 days.

            1. paul*

              We start at 15, and you get another few days every 3 years until you accrue 30 days annually. I’ve actually been quietly pushing for us to simplfy it to 18/25/30 in 3 year increments. I’ve been here long enough it wouldn’t really impact me (for another bit anyway) but I think it’d be easier to track and let people move into having a pretty fair amount of vacation relatively quickly.

          2. Recruit-o-rama*

            Giving new employees a decent amount of vacation time does not mean that a reward for loyalty to more senior employees can’t happen. It’s not like a 10 year vet with a lot of vacation actually takes time away from a newer person. I have been at my company for a long time and I feel like I’ve earned my additional PTO in a way that newer people have not (yet)

            In fact, in a year, I’ll get another week added to my yearly allotment (yippee!)

          3. paul*

            Nothing I said should be construed to indicate I support screwing new people; 15 days PTO the first year is 3 weeks of paid leave which isn’t bad. Hell, go to 20 (which would be what I’d favor) for new hires. But that doesn’t mean it’s inherently wrong to toss an extra week or two of PTO to someone that’s been there a few years–say 20/25/30 or 20/30/35 days at some set time of experience.

            I’ve also never seen a job that just keeps piling it on; I think the highest amount of PTO I’ve seen a person be able to earn in a year is like 30-35 days. I know that isn’t universal, but it seems to be closer to the norm than letting people accrue months and months and months of leave.

            I also think it’d be a logistical nightmare to tie PTO to how efficient someone is at their job.

      4. Chinook*

        I disagree – someone who has been with a place for a number of years has probably streamlined what they do and how they do it. We all acknowledge on this comment board that it can take upwards of a year to feel like you really get a specific job. After 10 years, you probably can do it a lot more easier as well.

        Plus, vacation shouldn’t be based on whether or not they can spare you from your work. If they can’t have a given person out for a week, then the place is understaffed. What would they do if someone was hit by a car?

      5. Honeybee*

        It’s not that they expect you to do less work…it’s simply a reward. It’s like getting paid more: as a junior person, I don’t have any fewer expenses than a senior person simply by virtue of being junior, but they pay the senior folks more to recognize their experience and longevity.

        (Also, in my role I would say I *do* have less work to do than the senior folks. They have more to do because they can do the same things I can more efficiently, so they get more responsibilities.)

        1. Anonymous Educator*

          I don’t know. It sounds as if people are trying to make the argument that people with seniority are more efficient because of experience (logically follows but isn’t necessarily true) while also trying to say that how efficient you are shouldn’t have anything to do with how much time you get off.

    5. Surrogate Tongue Pop*

      I work for this type of company! People only stay here because longevity gets them more vacation. We have people who have been doing buyer coordinator duties for 29 years because they get beaucoup PTO. I have been here a year, get 3 weeks total (no separate sick) but have 20+ years of experience, including management. So even though I make decent wages to enjoy a vacation, I have to very carefully plan how I might take time off to get the most out of my PTO and still leave a few days off buffer in case I get the death flu. And then somehow try to use those days at the end of the year when it is apparent that chances are I won’t get the death flu. ARGH! I’d love to take a 2-3 week trip to Australia, but alas, I cannot.

      1. Recruit-o-rama*

        At my company, if we hire someone at a higher level with a lot of experience, we will definitely negotiate more vacation time when they start because we know that if they are leaving a company where they had a lot of years they are also probably leaving a lot of vacation. Vacation time is not only a good retention tool, it’s also a good recruitment tool.

  3. justsomeone*

    I think one way to combat the “taking too much/taking not enough” aspect is messaging around an average. “We expect that most people will still take the usual 3 weeks on average.” Giving people a baseline of what’s “about right” is a great way to help people feel comfortable taking vacation time and knowing when they’re getting into “more than usual” territory.

    1. edj3*

      Also communicate what’s acceptable in terms of length away from the office at one stretch. My current manager is cool with a week of PTO, but not two weeks straight. It’s a know your office situation.

      1. Construction Safety*

        I had a boss tell me that if he had to do without me for more than 2 weeks, he could do without me altogether.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Wow, now THAT’S a good way to court employees coming to work seriously ill or fresh out of surgery!

        2. hbc*

          Oh good grief. We’ve been forced to limp along without key personnel for a few months at a time in a very small company, and it didn’t bring us down, but it’s not like it was sustainable or good for the company.

          Why do I suspect that your company wouldn’t have even noticed if your boss was gone for a month?

        3. esra*

          These are always the type of people that when they actually take time off, the whole office finally feels relaxed and productivity shoots up 50%.

        4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Ugh, your boss should not be managing people. That’s a ridiculous, short-minded and punitive mindset.

        5. Rookie Manager*

          In my partners office every single employee must have a 14 day stretch of leave at least once per year. This is twofold- firstly let people relax and destress with a proper break, secondly if someone is commiting fraud or something it is more likely to be discovered when they are not there to cover it up.

          1. paul*

            I’d *hate* that. I’d rather take 2-3 5-10 day breaks over the year.

            Actually have that planned for a trip this August–boozing and kayaking at a friends family cabin on a lake for 8 days running, then two days to recover before I get back to the office

          2. Callalily*

            I would LOVE that.

            I want to take a once in a lifetime trip through Europe where I’d need about 2.5 weeks off of work to make it happen (no downtime after getting home) but we are only allowed a week at a time. Sad that I work so hard to save for travel but will never be able to take the trip I actually want because I work.

            As for the the chance to ‘catch’ someone, that is SO TRUE. Things ran so efficiently when our admin was away sick for 3 weeks that we discovered she was wasting time running a ‘home-based’ business from her desk! We really needed a solid 2 weeks with her out of the office to make the discovery.

          3. Becky*

            I’ve been working at my current company for 4 years–two of those years I have taken vacations with at least 2 full weeks off (10-12 working days) and taken European Cruises. It was totally worth it. I was of course considerate of the projects going on at work. We aren’t allowed to take vacation around our production release, but most other times are open. Both times I took it over Thanksgiving week when the office is closed Thursday and Friday anyway (so technically 2 of the days were not PTO, but paid holidays instead). And being on a cruise in the atlantic ocean or mediterranean sea–the satellite internet on most boats is slow and expensive so I’m not even going to attempt checking in with work!

        6. paul*

          FMLA has something to say to that.

          On the flip side we do discourage people taking more than 2 weeks off for vacations. Its not policy but it’s definitely an unwritten expectation that people won’t take 3-4 weeks off at a whack.

      2. justsomeone*

        Yeah, that’s definitely going to depend on your position and team and should be communicated clearly as well. I know my team/company would be fine with a solid 3 weeks away if I had the time to take and gave them appropriate warning.

    2. straws*

      When we were considering this option, we were planning to release a minimum PTO plan. We would have required that employees take a minimum of X days per year, with no cap beyond that.

    3. Gov Worker*

      Which defeats the purpose of unlimited leave. There is no such thing as unlimited leave anyway, it is actually unassigned leave. Try taking unlimited leave under such a policy and see how far you get . Just grant a quantity of leave and be done with it, stop playing games with people.

      1. Honeybee*

        Well, I could see it working out. For example, maybe you expect people to normally take about 3 weeks of leave, but then you have an employee come to you who wants to take a month off to care for a sick relative or wants to take 6 weeks to take advantage of a fellowship that’ll bring the company some acclaim or bring new skills to the job. Or maybe you simply have someone who already took off their 3 weeks but now they need to take an additional week in an emergency or because an opportunity they couldn’t pass up came along (the airline accidentally listed tickets to Fiji for $250!) If you have a constrained leave system these requests are much harder to grant than if you don’t, and people may be less inclined to ask.

        It just largely depends on your company and the kind of people you have.

    4. pomme de terre*

      When I had an unlimited leave policy, we still had to record the days for tracking, so that TBTB (and individual managers) could keep an eye on people at either extreme.

    5. Honeybee*

      Yeah, this would be a good baseline, particularly if they gave a range: “Most people will probably want to take about 3-5 weeks of vacation on average.”

  4. Lily in NYC*

    I would never work at a place with this type of vacation policy – some people would abuse it and others would feel awkward taking time off. And I think it gives management too much power over people – I worry about different bosses having different philosophies about time off which could lead to it being unfair to certain employees if they have a difficult manager.
    I prefer the type where you get more time off the longer you remain with the company. We start with 3 weeks and I’m now up to 5 weeks off a year. I don’t feel guilty taking it because it’s a tangible amount of time and I am entitled to it. But I would never feel comfortable taking that much time off if we had the type of policy OP is considering. I would start looking for a new job if my company switched to this method.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      Oh, and people would be unhappy about losing the perk of getting vacation time paid out when we resign.

    2. neverjaunty*

      That is exactly what these policies are meant to do – take away a defined benefit and make it a discretionary gift from management. Period.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Yes, they really are. It’s not a coincidence that the companies pushing this as a fun “innovation” are tech companies in California, where accumulated PTO must be paid out. It’s not a quirky side effect that these companies (and their lawyers) just didn’t happene to notice.

            1. neverjaunty*

              A cap limits the amount of PTO the company carrries on its books. Making vacation “unlimited” means that time never goes on the books at all.

              I get that from the perspective of a good manager within the company this can in theory be a helpful policy. But that perspective really, really overlooks the legal and financial reasons for those policies being implemented in the first place – and those reasons are assuredly not unintended side effects. (I do suspect “employees take less leave” was unintentional.)

              Deliberately transforming financial obligations into optional perks under the guise of “flexibility” is a deliberate and intentional business strategy. This comes from lawyers and accountants, not HR experts and hands-on people managers.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Right, I understand that. But if it was in response to CA’s law requiring employers to roll over vacation time, there’s a much easier solution: Cap the amount of accrued vacation time at X, so you’re limiting what rolls over.

                I don’t disagree that there are lots of ways these policies benefit employers while penalizing employees (that was part of the point of my column), but I really disagree that the entire motivation for them is to screw employees.

                1. neverjaunty*

                  Whether it does or doesn’t screw the employees is beside the point – I am sure that the people implementing these policies would be perfectly happy if employees love and benefit from them. But they are, as with so many “flexibility” employment laws, intended and developed with the primary goal of benefiting the employer, by morphing a mandatory cost into an optional benefit. Whether it helps or harms employees is the “side effect” – not the other way around.

                  I can’t make you dislike a policy change you find intriguing. But I also don’t see any reason to pretend that these policies are employee-centered.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I just don’t think it’s true. I’ve consulted with two organizations as they considered implementing unlimited vacation time, and the discussions among senior management about pros and cons and what they cared about were really, really different than the way you’re painting them.

                  (And to be clear, it’s not about making me like or dislike it. I already think there are huge problems with these policies — as laid out in the column that started all this.)

          1. Arielle*

            Yup. Same here in Massachusetts, which I think is the only other state that mandates PTO payout. I came from a startup that did unlimited PTO, which meant that no one had any guidelines on how much to take and so no one ever took any. My current company has very generous vacation (3 weeks in the first year going up to 4 in the second) plus unlimited sick time. They are really serious about people taking their vacation. (We’re in the travel industry so it would be kind of hypocritical if they weren’t.)

            1. MsCHX*

              It’s more states than CA or MA. My state does as does other states (aside from CA and MA) where I have employees.

          2. Honeybee*

            Uh, I really don’t think so. I’m not saying that’s not maybe part of it. But tech companies are also competing for a scarce commodity – highly-trained technical workers, who are in short supply. The demand is honestly largest than the supply of qualified technical workers, so these companies have always been in a race to have the best perks and benefits so they can lure tech workers to their ranks. There are lots of geeky blog posts out there of tech workers comparing the nitty gritty silly little details of their benefits package and complaining about lacking things that most people in most industries would never even dream of having (Hooli’s signing bonus is only $$$$$; Pied Piper only gives you hard stock and not options, etc.) That’s what the recruiting world looks like for these companies – the good talent expects excellent benefits so they’re always trying to one-up each other.

            1. neverjaunty*

              And tech companies have done a marvelous job of marketing “great benefits” that turn out to be a net gain for the company – like meals and perks that eliminate reasons for employees to spend time away from work.

              You’re essentially arguing here that a brilliant and well-funded industry invented a benefit that is meant to be great for employees, and neither they nor HR nor their expensive lawyers noticed or thought of the massive benefit to their financials until later on?

              1. MommyMD*

                I agree. So-called unlimited vacation policies in lieu of reasonable defined benefits can soon become very draconian.

            2. Ann*

              My tech friends compare grittier details than that, such as how big a computer screen they can get. There is a hell of a lot of competition in the tech industry where I am at and companies around here really are scrambling to make their compensation appealing.

              For instance, as I mentioned below, the company my bf works at has unlimited vacation but because they’ve noted that people tend to take less vacation in this model, they set a minimum and give you a pretty generous allowance to put towards vacations, specifically. I don’t know if that really nets them any gains aside from increased productivity and employee retention and acquisition.

        2. Anonymous Educator*

          It depends on the company. Some companies really did have good intentions but didn’t think out all the consequences. Others were trying to deliberately shortchange their employees.

      1. Solidus Pilcrow*

        My company changed to discretionary time off this year to get the PTO assets off the company books (they stated this directly). It’s frozen capital that they can’t use. It didn’t really come as a surprise because last summer they had mandatory shut down days around the major holidays with the express purpose of making people use their PTO.

        So far, I haven’t seen blatant abuse of time off (we were given guidelines of how much time off is acceptable, e.g., 1-3 years = ~120 hrs). If anything, I’m seeing the opposite effect that Sr. Blogger Green warned about: people not taking as much time as they should. Me included!

        1. Lily in NYC*

          That would be my main concern – that people wouldn’t use the same amount of time they normally would. I think it would be easier to deal with abusers because it would be obvious. But I don’t know too many managers who would tell people they aren’t taking enough time off (yes, of course some would but I’m generalizing). I can envision it almost becoming a competition to see who uses the least time.

      2. Jerry Vandesic*

        This is about taking a liability off of the balance sheet. Vacation accrual does not need to be tracked or accounted for when the policy is unlimited vacation. Vacation does not need to be paid out if a person leaves the company. In the end this is about lowering payroll costs (taking less vacation than with a traditional vacation policy is just a nice side benefit).

        1. neverjaunty*

          Right. There’s nothing inherently evil about that, it’s just business. It is continually amazing to me how resistant people are to acknowledge that business acts in its financial self-interest.

          1. LBK*

            But attracting and retaining good employee is also in a business’s financial self-interest, and part of doing that is having good benefits packages. I’m not saying companies offer generous benefits out of the kindness of their hearts, but I also don’t think it’s 100% purely a numbers game. Having good people is a big part of the success of a company even if it doesn’t fit neatly onto a balance sheet, and as the economy continues to improve, it’s harder and harder to do that without being able to keep up with competitors’ benefits offerings.

            There are obviously side effects, but it seems unfairly black and white to insist that literally the only reason a company would ever even think to offer unlimited vacation is to backhandedly circumvent labor laws, screw their employees and save money. I’d need to see some kind of evidence that this is what inspired people to come up with unlimited PTO policies besides your gut instinct and your tenuous correlation between unlimited vacation in tech and California’s labor laws before I’d be convinced that this truly was the sole genesis of that idea.

            1. Gazebo Slayer*

              Most companies value short-term, quantifiable gains over long-term ones like having more satisfied employees. They’re easier for executives to point to as evidence of their supposedly excellent performance and they funnel quick cash into investors’ pockets. By the time long-term gains are realized, those execs and investors will likely have moved on to the next shiny object, so who cares if someone else benefits?

    3. Turquoise Cow*

      My concern would be that there are still unwritten rules about how much to take, which some people will interpret differently than others. Some might think “reasonable” means two weeks, others four. My old company had a few of those types of rules – for example, they’d tell you they were okay if you came in a few minutes late and stayed late to make that up, but in reality people noticed and thought less of you. They said the day started at 8:30, but if you came in at 8:30 and left in time, you were seen as a slacker. (Not by everyone, but I definitely heard my bosses discussing people in this manner, so I know other managers were also)

      I’d rather have a defined policy simply because I don’t want to have to worry if I’m giving the wrong impression or being perceived as a slacker. Don’t make me guess what reasonable means. Give me a number.

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I worked at an employer that had a version of this, and it was an excellent experience (but we were also small enough that all leave requests went through the Executive Director, who was exceedingly fair). But I realize that there are real pitfalls that can arise from this kind of system.

    5. drashizu*

      Is 3 weeks actually normal? I’ve never worked at a company without unlimited PTO, and I have a really difficult time getting a grasp of how much vacation time is “normal” since I’m not privy to the PTO requests of anyone else in my office (and when they’re out, it’s more often than not business travel), and there’s no official policy.

      I thought 2 weeks, either taken together or spaced throughout the year, was normal. I really don’t know if it would be excessive to ask for more time off than that or not. Especially since everyone and their brother takes their work phone with them on vacations and still responds to emails, so I sometimes get the feeling taking a lot of “vacations” is fine if you’re going to work through them. Could someone who leaves their phone at home take as much vacation without anyone thinking it’s excessive as someone who’s still firing off emails while they’re on the beach or pulls out their laptop in their hotel room? The culture of a place with unlimited PTO and no policy about how to use it doesn’t make it easy to figure out the answer.

      So, another downside to unlimited PTO: it doesn’t give people who’ve been at the same job since graduating the opportunity to learn what a “normal” amount of vacation is.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Three weeks can be normal. It honestly depends on so many factors, though (your industry, your tenure at that company, your role/job functions, etc.). But I have several friends who’ve now worked at their employer for 5+ years and routinely take 2-4 weeks off on vacation. I don’t think they’re the norm, but I do think there’s significant variation in what’s considered an “acceptable” vacation duration.

        1. Becky*

          Starting employees at my company get 17 days of PTO (sick leave and vacation are in one bucket) which is the most generous of any place I have ever worked. Five months after I started working at the company I took a 2 week vacation (I had it already planned and mostly paid for when I started the job)–I told them very early on about it. I think at 3 years it goes to 19 days and then 5 it goes to 21 and I can’t remember the gradations beyond that.

  5. CatCat*

    I’m in a state that requires pay out of vacation time when you leave an employer. I keep a stash of my leave untouched as a kind of emergency fund so I have a cushion in case something happens and I am out of work. I’d never work someplace where I could not accrue leave.

    1. Mobuy*

      Yes, and you don’t want to give people a payout for NOT taking time off in the unlimited-vacation deal. That defeats the whole purpose.

    2. CatCat*

      In other words, “unlimited” vacation time means zero vacation time on the books. Nice for the employer from financial liability perspective, but not good for me. I’d pass on any employer with this type of policy.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        The whole push (or at least publicity minded push) started with a company in California, which requires both pay out and allowing you to roll over unused vacation to the next year. They tried to make it like they were just the most awesome company to work for, and it came out that in reality, people were taking less vacation- and then of course, not being compensated for that.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          California does allow employers to put a cap on accrued vacation time though, which is a pretty straightforward way to stop people from accumulating massive amounts that than get paid out.

    3. MashaKasha*

      Ah, good point. So under this policy, if you leave, you don’t get paid for unused vacation at all. That’s a pretty serious financial hit.

      I like the vacation stash idea! I’ve been keeping a stash every year too, but for the “what if my whole family is in the hospital” kind of thing. I like the idea that it can also be an emergency fund.

      1. not really a lurker anymore*

        My company shifted from lump amount of vacation time dumped into your account to accrual on a pay period basis a few years back. They had to swap some of the lump sum hours into a different account, for reasons I assume have to do with bookkeeping. I’ve still got something like 130 hours of that on the books. Plus some 60+ hours of comp time. Neither of which I use. It’s my emergency “everyone I love gets sick and I’m out of paid FMLA” fund/stash. And when I retire, it has to be paid out.

      2. Honeybee*

        Lots of companies don’t pay you for unused vacation, though. There’s no law in my state requiring companies to pay out for unused vacation time; my sense is that’s the case in most states, and many employers have a use-it-or-lose-it policy.

        1. MashaKasha*

          Good point. Mine does; guess I got lucky. Most of my jobs had a use-it-or-lose-it policy, but I still usually had about a week of unused vacation when I resigned, which translated to a nice chunk of cash when moving from one job to the next.

    4. k*

      I love that buffer. We have a limited amount of days that can be carried year to year, and I try to keep my bank about as close to that limit as possible. We get a good amount of PTO, so I’d much rather get an extra paycheck when I leave than take more days off.

    5. ThatGirl*

      I’m in a state with a similar law, but my PTO at my last job was use it or lose it per calendar year, so you couldn’t really do that long-term.

      My husband used to be able to roll all of his over up to a cap, but now he can only roll over a week – I think it’s seen as a financial liability for the company.

    6. anoncmntr*

      I’m curious about this, as I’ve never worked anywhere that had a vacation pay-out like that. What’s the advantage to stashing your vacation time instead of saving an emergency fund?

      1. Chinook*

        I work in a country where vacation is either accrued with a pay out at the end of what is not used or is added to each pay cheque as a specific amount (I think it is 2%) where it is expected that you hold on to it to cover the time when you are on vacation.

        Honestly, holding on to that 2% takes a lot of self discipline that even I, who swears by her YNAB spreadsheet and budgets everything out, have a hard time doing because it is such a small amount. Plus, in the jobs that usually do this (think fast food and retail), the pay is so low that it just gets absorbed into your day-to-day bills. Then, when you do take some unpaid days, you really feel the pinch in the next pay cheque because it is so much lower than usual. Having the vacation pay accrued means you know you are getting a set amount of dollars throughout the year and just makes life easier.

      2. CatCat*

        The vacation time accrues value as I promote and it costs me nothing in terms of cash on hand.

        1. Red Reader*

          Bingo. I’m on vacation right now and I got a raise last week – meaning my vacation time has increased in value by 4% compared to where it was when I requested the vacation four months ago.

      3. doreen*

        It depends on the circumstances that put you out of work and how your employer pays out. Assuming we’re talking about leaving a job entirely, at my current job any accrued time over 30 days keeps you on the payroll,and my last job paid all of your accrued time that way. Staying on the payroll meant your benefits continued – and you might actually gain a couple of paid days.

    7. H.C.*

      Yeah, I accrued ~8 weeks of vacation+personal time as that emergency cushion at OldJob in CA (I also like that the banked time builds value as I get raises & promotions). And when I left that job, I gave myself a very well-deserved (and financially worry-free) monthlong break before starting NewJob.

    8. Gazebo Slayer*

      My previous employer suddenly, without warning, decreed that all vacation time was unlimited, wiping out this cushion for everyone who had it. (I wasn’t eligible for any vacation at all, so I didn’t.) Beware.

    9. MommyMD*

      Nor I. I can accrue time off until I retired and be paid out. These policies and not employee geared. No accrual equal no payout. These type of policies are never strictly benign no matter if they are sugar-coated.

  6. Loopy*

    I am such an anxious person I would so overthink this on my end. I LOVE the idea in theory. But in practice it might make me crazy.

    I like the idea of giving people an average for a baseline expectation. I’d also like not having to wait to accrue up two weeks in a row, which is a huge hassle where I work now (we get x amount of hours each pay period so we have to suffer and wait if we want to take anything lengthy).

  7. Bork*

    While I would love, love, love unlimited vacation time, I could already imagine half of my co-workers disappearing for months at a time. I’d probably only take 2 weeks more than I already get (so 5 weeks total for me).

    I’m sure there is a happy medium of being generous, say 8 weeks vacation per year and only X weeks roll over if unused (maybe 1-2). There is always going to be that one person that ruins it for the rest of us, so I rather have “boundaries” than let someone ruin a good thing.

    1. Michelle*

      I agree. It would be great for me so that I could take a few days off during our slowest times of the year, but still have a few days during holidays. But I can name 10 people I knowwho would never be at work. If something was said they would be like “It’s unlimited vacation time! I can be on vacation as much as I want ! Well, technically but you really need to actually come to work and do your job to get the benefit!

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        But wouldn’t those people be fired for failing to perform?

        1. paul*

          But while they’re failing to perform it’s all going to hell and other workers are picking up the slack or clients are getting burned.

          I place some value on trying to prevent that situation from coming up in the first place.

    2. Honeybee*

      Yeah, personally I currently have 3 weeks of PTO and I could see myself taking maybe 4-5 weeks, but there are several of my coworkers who I also think would disappear for several weeks on end before the crackdown came.

    3. MsCHX*

      Managers still have to manage. Unlimited PTO doesn’t mean employees can decide to be away from the office for untold amounts of time.

  8. k*

    This would drive me batty. Despite knowing that it should be okay to take time off, and even without the pressure from a bad manager, it’s very instilled in my mind that taking “too much” time off means taking time off for anything besides a true emergency. Having a set number of days off and a limit on how many can be carried over lets me give myself permission to actually use them. I’m not choosing to take days off, I have to use them up. If there was unlimited days, I would feel pressure from myself not to use them.

    1. Blue_eyes*

      Exactly. I think this is one of the biggest downsides that no one has mentioned yet. Your most conscientious workers will be the ones taking the fewest days off. That almost certainly has the effect of penalizing some of your best employees.

      I also have the feeling that women on average would end up taking less days than men in order to avoid being perceived as someone who’s “always on vacation”. (Thinking about those studies that show that women were perceived as dominating meetings when they talked only 30% of the time, I wouldn’t be surprised if women were seen as taking “too many” days off when they were still taking fewer than their male peers).

      1. not really a lurker anymore*

        They wouldn’t be vacation days, they’d be what we refer to as “sick kid days” in my family.

        I get 6 weeks of vacation per year because I’ve been here 25+ years. A depressing proportion of that time off is due to kid stuff – chaperoning a field trip, no school days, being home with a sick kid 1 two days this week and sick kid 2 one day next week, etc. I’m not permitted to use my own sick leave to be home with a sick kid. I’d have to lie about me being sick.

      2. Anon for this*

        I have seen that happen in practice. It wasn’t even all vacation, just a ton of business travel. Senior Male Exec and Senior Female Exec were both out of the office for weeks at a time. We all assumed Male Exec had valid business reasons for all that travel, even though we knew part of every trip was spent visiting his wife out-of-state, but that’s fine, home-life balance is important. And I thought we all assumed the same thing about Female Exec. But apparently not. Someone in the office thought she was gone all the time because she was just taking constant vacations, and went so far as to leave a nasty anonymous note in Male Exec’s office that Female Exec wasn’t pulling her weight… while she was on another continent overseeing the opening of a new international office.

      3. PinkCupcake*

        Yes, this is so true. I am one of those super conscientious employees. And I would never get any time off. And my managers would just say “well, it’s their choice”, but not really be upset about the fact that I worked all the time, pulled up other people’s slack, and held the fort down while most others are out. I would never, ever take a job with “unlimited vacation”, regardless of any of the other pay or benefits, because I know exactly how this would turn out for me.

  9. ATM*

    And I was excited because I just accepted a job that provides 13 days each of sick and vacation (from a position that offers 13 days combined leave total).

    Unlimited leave, when done correctly, sounds fantastic, but I doubt it would work for my customer-service-heavy field.

  10. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

    In my experience, unlimited vacation policies only work in specific work cultures and when there is a minimum amount of time people need to take each year. A place where people feel obligated to come to work sick instead of “please go home you’re going to get everyone else sick” would not do well with an unlimited leave policy.

    1. Oceans*

      This is exactly what I think, too. I’ve worked at places with unlimited vacation policies, and they generally don’t work because there’s a silent agreement that unlimited=as little as possible.

      My partner just started at a company that has an unlimited vacation policy, but it is combined with a *minimum* vacation policy. The minimum is set at four weeks. As in, “We’re amenable to you more, but you *must* take at least four weeks of paid time off each year.”

  11. Kyrielle*

    I work at a company that has unlimited leave and does it “well” as far as I can tell.

    And…I’d prefer a generous but finite vacation and sick plan.

    Unlimited is better than “two weeks, suckers” – but if you gave me 5+ weeks and banking, I’d prefer it to this. I’m constantly nervous and juggling “how much is too much?”

    I really want to take a little more time off. And I don’t feel okay doing that, because (a) most of my time off is childcare-related*, and (b) much of the rest is health-related, and (c) I am near what I consider ‘reasonable’ amounts of time…and I have no way to tell. Maybe my boss would be fine if I took another week off! Maybe not. (I do have four days of actual vacation in there…to make long weekends so we can fly and visit family. Which is good, important to me, etc., but…yeah.)

    * I find it especially ironic that I feel bad about this, as though I should treat it like vacation, because the vast majority of time off between last August and this August will have been due to in-service closures at my youngest’s preschool. Which is…owned and run by my employer, and admits employees’ children before children from the general community, as a company benefit.

    And yet, I still feel awkward because those in-services result in rather a lot of time off….

    1. ZNerd*

      Likewise, I would far rather see generous vacation plus a separate and well-defined sick/OA policy. Give everyone as much vacation leave as you can, with the assumption that everyone will take every day, every year. If you can’t afford that, rethink.

      For companies that value longevity in employees, granting additional time off as people hit milestones is nice, but consider how to deal with experienced people coming in. I can’t tell you how disheartening it is to move from a company where you’ve built up 4 weeks leave, to one where everyone starts at 2 weeks, no exceptions.

      Then offer also generous “use as you need” sick leave, with info and examples of what is okay use. For example, actually sick? Of course. To tack extra days onto vacation? No. When day care or school is closed and you need to stay home w/ the kids? Sure. Etc. And I’d suggest sick leave be capped as well to discourage abuse, but with an allowance that someone could petition for (and be granted!) additional time for something major, like a bout of flu in Dec, or recovery from a minor surgery. Hopefully you also offer some kind of accommodation for short-term leave or disability insurance for more serious things.

      Anyway, that would be my ideal.

    2. krysb*

      I have it and I love it – but it works here because we are super-laid back and flexible, anyway – and we all tend to take a lot of days off.

    3. Arjay*

      I currently accrue 25 days off (vacation, sick, and personal days all in one bucket), and this year on my service anniversary, it will bump up to 30 days. It’s difficult for me to take full week or longer vacations right now due to coverage issues, but that means I need to take an average of 2 or 3 days off a month to use the time. I’ve had some doctor appointments I’ve had to do that for recently, and I still feel vaguely like I’m out of the office too much, even though I have plenty of time accrued already. If I were in an unlimited situation, that vague feeling would be so much worse.

      1. Rater Z*

        I work part-time in retail for a company which gives benefits to part-timers as well, such as holiday pay, 401-k match and paid vacation time (on a pro-rated basis). I have been here 17 years so I get 25 days paid vacation per year, but it sounds better than how it works out.

        I work two third shifts plus two evenings a week for a total of 24 hours — all I want since I am 72 next month. I also have a supervisor who has to cover for me if I take a day off so her philosophy is that I am only entitled to take my vacation days on days which I would not be working. For those working Mon-Fri, it would mean you get 25 days provided you use them on Sat or Sun. Sounds great, right?

        Taking them on other days is like a pay raise for me but I cannot believe that the company actually intended for it to work that way. I took one day off this past March that she had five months advanced warning of and she hasn’t forgiven me yet for taking it. Last year, it was one day the beginning of April, so I have had two days off in 23 months. It doesn’t do any good to go over her head because that just makes her even madder.

        When I retire (uncertain when that will be because of a wife in poor health), I will get my unpaid time for that year plus a frozen pension of about $51 a month. At my age, and because I need later hours, I am locked into this job (and she knows it). And, to make it more fun, we just got a notice that they have reviewed the benefits and the maximum allowed vacation days is being dropped to 14 days a year.

        By the way, they have more than 50,000 employees across almost 300 stores and I am probably the only one locked into this vacation schedule.

  12. MsMarvel8591*

    I think it depends on your field and as Alison has stated your managers and the current employees. As I work in customer service, it is important for us to be here since we answer phone calls and customer emails, however our department is managed to where we can be down three or four people and still not have it affect our workload that much. For these positions, I think that the managers would need to limit the amount of people that can be gone at one time. For instance you can take as much time as you like but you cannot be out at the same time as your back up person and we cannot have x amount of people out at the same time. There might not be limits on time but there would need to be a system in place to where our customers are still receiving the same level of service.

    As far as the payout, I only get 13 days a year for everything so I feel like I would rather use all of my time than get a payout since it is not that much money anyway. My mental and physical health are more important to me personally but I know others do not feel that way.

  13. mousanon*

    a vacation policy is only as good as how flexible the employee can be in choosing days and durations.

    after all, an employee could take 130 working days off a year but only every other day!

    1. drashizu*

      That sounds like a nightmare. Actually, it sounds like when I worked two different part-time jobs, one with a fixed MWF business hour schedule, and one retail job that knew I was using them to fill in the gaps of my MWF job but after the first month just flat refused to schedule me for Tuesdays or Thursdays anymore.

      So for a year they’d schedule me for S-M-W-F-(S). Evenings on MWF, so I’d be working more than 14 hours straight on those days, but absolutely nothing on Tuesdays or Thursdays except for random call-ins, and I wouldn’t find out if I got Saturday off until the week of. I got so stressed working that job.

  14. MashaKasha*

    There will always be something urgent happening at work that would make it absolutely impossible for anyone in the group to take any vacation while The Thing is being worked on (resolved, released, etc.) So, not during the month of The Thing. But the month after that, feel free! Next Thing occurs in the month after that, sorry folks, this is an all hands on deck situation, no one can take vacation until Next Thing is done, but after that, for sure! and so forth.

    I mean, I have use it or lose it days at Current Job, and, on some levels, I really dislike the policy. But on the other hand, I don’t feel guilty taking time off, and my manager does not feel guilty approving it, because we both know that if I don’t take this time by a certain date, I will lose it. Unlimited vacation would be the same thing as no vacation, or “no vacation unless you’ve got a very valid reason like a honeymoon, a kid’s graduation ceremony at an Ivy League school, or something of that nature” at a lot of places I’ve worked.

    1. walkingwhilefemale*

      Agreed. I worked for a startup that implemented unlimited vacation after I left the job (and got paid out for the days I was never “allowed” to take). Unlimited, that is, with your manager’s approval. For some folks/departments it worked out great, but for others there is ALWAYS a project, or fire, or something urgent to work on, so they don’t get the days they want when they want them. The co-founders are super into optics, so they LOVE that it looks like they’re a super laid-back tech company while they can hold vacation time over everyone’s heads (same place that is stingy as all get out with raises and promotions, but moved to a fancy-architect-designed new office with a moss wall – straight out of HBO’s Silicon Valley).

      My current job gives 5 weeks of vacation, use it or lose it, and it makes me SO HAPPY. We have a culture from the top down that encourages employees to use their days when they want – even if it’s in the middle of a project or rollout. Just make sure you have your responsibilities covered/outlined/completed. It strikes me as a more “adult” system than the unlimited, without the potential for abuse.

      1. Blue_eyes*

        This. Your current company sounds like they have it just right. Generous, but finite, and with a company culture that encourages actually using your days.

        1. walkingwhilefemale*

          Another downside to the way StartupJob conducted unlimited vacation was a persistent expectation that even if you were on “vacation” you would be calling in to meetings, stand ups, scrums, etc. They were not OK with just leaving documentation behind for someone else to cover. There was no way to ever unplug or actually be on vacation – the excuse was “Well, we give you UNLIMITED vacation, so you can sacrifice one measly hour for the weekly standup.” Which of course turned into, “Well, we absolutely NEED you on this client call.” “We can’t move the project forward without YOUR input on the scrum.” etc etc etc.

          1. MashaKasha*

            Oh good god. I cannot stand this type of company culture. “We’re going to work you to death and underpay you, but hey, here’s a ping-pong table! and, look, beer in the fridge!” Yes, they CAN move the project forward without Matilda’s input on the scrum. They would certainly move it forward just fine if Matilda changed jobs and left tomorrow. They can do the same today.

            1. Wheezy Weasel*

              Ditto. An unlimited vacation policy where the employer can clearly describe why they have it? Might be interested. Bragging about it on the company website along with all the other ‘start up culture’ posturing? No thanks.

            2. walkingwhilefemale*

              Oh the stories I could tell – if only I weren’t afraid of doxxing myself ;)

  15. Whats In A Name*

    I never worked in a company where I had this option but I think for it to work you would have to have very good managers to avoid it becoming a nightmare. Alison’s points were really now.

    Now that I work on contract and get paid for a job, not a salary, my time off still mirrors that of the company I am working for. Right now I am in the 2nd year of a full-time contract with a company that offers it’s FT employees 16 days of PTO. I work in a role that requires a lot of face time with employees, but use 16 days as a point of reference. I have flexibility to work from home (or wherever), knock off early if days and workload allow but I still try not to take more than 16 true vacation days, where I am fully unavailable.

    If I had no starting point I could easily find myself not taking days at all or checking in 24/7 or having weeks where I could.

  16. OfficeWitch*

    I currently work at an organization that has this policy, and as our organization grows we’re implementing some amendments to ensure that people are taking time off as well as not abusing the policy. Some additions we’re making are a clause that says employees are required to take off a minimum of two weeks as well as implementing regular check-ins with their direct managers during which they work together to come up with a job summary of essential functions of their role (that both parties sign when agreed upon). The direct expectation being that if their is an issue that comes up with abusing the time-off policy that both management and an employee can refer back to that form and work on an improvement plan.

  17. TLL*

    I know of several law firms with unlimited vacation policy. The policy makes sense on some level – most firms track associate productivity by the billable hour. Associates have a lot of autonomy and flexibility in how they meet their targets, including picking a best time to take vacation.

    In practice, however, the result of the policy is often that associates view this as a cost-saving measure for the partnership. Associates feel less entitled to take vacation because there’s no policy granting them a set number of hours per year, and they think the partners are keeping more $ in their pockets by ending the obligation to pay out unused vacation time when an associate leaves the firm.

    1. neverjaunty*

      And they’re likely aware that, as with billable hours, it’s harmful to their careers to take “too much” time – with that accompanying race to the bottom.

    2. higheredrefugee*

      This is why this works in a law firm or consulting/project-based business though – an employee’s “productivity” is measured on the value you brought into the company, whether through billable hours or project completion payments. Those can easily be compared across employees, and bonuses structured to reward and punish accordingly.

  18. AnotherAlison*

    Well, given that I get 5 weeks PTO per year, and I’ve been stuck at my capped 10 weeks for 2 months without being able to take more than two days off, I wouldn’t be too excited about an unlimited vacation policy. My main complaint about my PTO situation is that I don’t really like to take random days off, but my work schedule this year required me to be here on the days I wanted to take off. . .for example, a jerk (now former) coworker took off the week of Christmas and left me to do his project work (which had formerly been my project). Then, I got assigned a new project and had to take back his project when he quit in mid-January. I just closed out that new project on Monday, and my managers were asking me two weeks ago when I was going to come available so that I could take on more work. I know it’s more of a management than a policy issue, but geez.

  19. nnn*

    I think it would also need a very, very clear expectations of what constitutes keeping on top of your work and/or doing enough work that you’re not considered to be abusing your time off.

  20. Mononymous*

    I’d rather see a middle ground here, as someone who has a decent amount of PTO but ends up using a lot of it as sick time each year due to chronic illness. My dream would be a generous but defined amount of vacation that accrues and may or may not roll over, and unlimited paid sick time. That way everyone knows how much vacation or fun time they can use and there’s less risk of just not taking any as happens with unlimited vacation policies, but those of us with chronic illnesses or other health issues don’t have to feel “punished” with lack of vacation in addition to being sick more often than healthier people through no fault of our own. It would help encourage contagious people to stay home and avoid spreading illness, too.

    1. Arielle*

      My company has exactly this. It’s fantastic. We have generous vacation time which is separate from unlimited sick time. I came from a startup with unlimited PTO and really, really hated it. I feel much more entitled to take vacation time when I can track a defined amount of it.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I agree with this.

      But it would again require managers who actually know how to manage and employees who are responsible.

  21. S.*

    I worked at a company that had unlimited vacation, but only 2 weeks paid parental leave. This meant that one employee took off a total of five weeks over a year to go on vacations around the world, while a new mother had to take unpaid leave to stay home more than two weeks after her baby was born. They would not allow her to use her ‘unlimited vacation’ for parental leave, either. That was five years ago and I still can’t believe it happened.

    1. MsMarvel8591*

      That sounds absolutely terrible. If you are willing to pay for unlimited vacations you should also allow a generous leave policy. I personally feel that all companies should be required to offer twelve weeks paid parental leave 9for moms and dads alike) but that of course is just my personal opinion and most offices do not do that.

  22. em2mb*

    I really love the way our time off package is divvied up — 4 personal days, 17 vacation days and 12 sick days. The personal days we get each year on our work anniversary, and they’re use it or lose it. The vacation days accrue, and you can bank up to two years (so 34 days). Sick days never expire and can be used for family leave or caregiving, so you can use it piecemeal when your kid gets sick at daycare, for doctor appointments, to recover from a surgery or illness, etc. My last job had a similar amount of leave but just in one big PTO pot, and I never wanted to take a sick day I could use for vacation. I was hospitalized last year and having something like 30 days accrued was a godsend. I took the time I needed to get better without worrying if I’d have to cancel a trip later in the year.

    I’d also like to give props to management at my company because they’ve never given me flack about taking extended time off. I put in for almost a month this year, completely paid, and no one in management batted an eye. Now, I’ve had a few coworkers remark on it, but they’re the ones who take a day every time one accrues and complain about never having enough time off to take a vacation.

  23. Rookie Manager*

    Unlike most of the comments so far I would live this policy! I’m in the UK so I have generous holidays compared to most AAM readers. However, working full time I could really do with a few more days for life things.

    I would have no heitation taking leave with this policy and I think it would make me a better employee.

  24. mskyle*

    Even more than messaging the “average” I think mandating a minimum number of days off is a good way to make sure people with “unlimited” vacation actually use it. I’ve seen this at a few tech companies. A lot of finance companies also require people in certain roles to take two straight weeks of vacation for compliance reasons (I guess on the assumption that if someone has their hand in the cookie jar, two weeks away from the office will turn up some interesting information).

    I have a moderate, finite amount of vacation (but very flexible WFH and sick time); my fiancé has “unlimited” vacation time. And yet I’m the one going on vacation by myself next week because he’s uncomfortable taking vacation!

  25. pomme de terre*

    I had it for about a year and it worked well for me. I had a manager who believed that time off was good and important. If you had a manager who did not, it would be rough. I’ve read about how people often end up taking less time off under those policies, so I made a point to take one day off per month unrelated to any planned vacations. I usually ran errands and went to doctor’s appointments on those days, or just unplugged. It was great for me and for my department.

    One way that this policy worked out great for a co-worker: she had a weird 2-3 gap between the end of her maternity leave and the start of her child care. Under the unlimited leave policy, she took an additional few weeks of leave and got to come back to work with her kid’s new daycare routine well under way and it was not a big deal. (She was a high-performing long-term employee so her boss approved it no problem.) Who knows how she would have gotten through those few weeks without that policy in place?

    A few other people who had big events really appreciated it, because they didn’t have to hoard PTO for normal life things (going home for Christmas, medical stuff, etc) in service of getting married or planning a big trip.

  26. Bend & Snap*

    In the tech world, this is sometimes used to eliminate accounting liability when a company is shopping for a buyer. I’m not sure if it’s the same in other industries. But for a small company, this can be a sign that acquisition is a possibility.

    1. pomme de terre*

      Heh, I didn’t know that but it’s exactly what happened to my small tech company with an unlimited leave policy. Heh.

  27. Mimmy*

    I’d fear the opposite of #3 in your list–that they’d take TOO MUCH time off. My employer is government-run instructional facility, and most instructional areas have two instructors each, in a couple of cases, 3 instructors. Most instructors share the student load, but if an instructor is out, we often have to shift students around to ensure adequate coverage (weekly schedules are created at the end of each prior week). Sometimes there is some serious shuffling, which can be very confusing for students and staff alike.

    As with many state employers, time off can be quite generous. While I agree that treating your employees like adults is the right thing to do, managers in my type of setting would have to be very careful not to allow abuse of this policy so that the students receive adequate instruction with minimal disruption (we do not use substitutes).

  28. Seal*

    Unlimited sick time lead to the firing of a former boss. When I worked for him he called in sick at least a day a week for years. Due to a number of factors, mostly related to bad management, he was able to fly under the radar for years. Eventually, after a reorganization he got caught and was forced to account for his time; not surprisingly, he found other ways to work the system. In the end it was a combination of things that lead to his firing, but the abuse of sick leave was a major factor. After he was ousted, perhaps not surprisingly major changes were made to the unlimited sick leave policy.

  29. Honeybee*

    Why not try just giving a very generous amount of leave rather than unlimited? So something like 5 weeks of leave with additional approved on an as-needed basis. In my current position, I have 3 weeks of leave, and I feel like that’s pretty good – 5 weeks would honestly be more than I would probably take in a given year particularly because I’m relatively new. The more senior people in my business do have 5 weeks (you get an extra week I think after 5 years here and another one after 10) and some of them do take the entire 5 weeks, but they manage their time really well and make sure they have coverage – and we’re also the kind of industry in which in most cases, one person being out doesn’t necessarily affect the workload of others’ too much, particularly if it’s handled right.

    1. LadyKelvin*

      Yeah, we get 21 sick days, 21 vacation days and 13 paid holidays a year (in the US!). Its pretty awesome. We can bank as much sick leave as we want and I think up to 60 days of vacation. But when I had a migraine last week I had no qualms saying “it’s dumb for me to try to tough this out” so I went home and slept.

      1. Cher Horowitz*

        That sounds so good that it is decadent!
        Do you work for a governmental org?
        I have a better package than many other US based folks – 5 sick/20 vacation/6 holidays but I would jump ship to your company if I could in a heartbeat!

  30. KellyK*

    Yeah, unlimited vacation time is really great in theory, but it relies on managers being reasonable and employees being reasonable. I do like the concept of ROWE (results-only work environment), particularly for salaried employees who are usually managing their own time anyway, but from what I’ve read, it doesn’t work if it’s not implemented whole-scale, with all the cultural shifts that need to accompany it. Doing it partway is often worse than not doing it at all.

    Another thing that makes the idea of unlimited vacation time difficult is that different jobs have very different metrics for what “done” or “caught up” looks like. It can definitely create resentment if one person can take a month off because their work is fixed deliverables that’s waiting on other people’s input, while a receptionist or IT person can barely get any time because their job has coverage and availability requirements. To address this, companies really need to commit to a *minimum* amount of vacation time. Like, no matter how crucial you are, we will work things so that you can take a whole week, or two weeks, in a row. Whether you can totally disconnect will depend on the job, but there has to be a real commitment to getting you a break, or unlimited vacation time is BS.

  31. SignalLost*

    Be clear on what the policy means for people. I have taken four days of voluntary time off this month (I can cover it out of PTO if I have it; if I don’t, it’s just the company sending me home with no strikes, and it IS voluntary). If I were considering a longer tenure with the company, I’d like to know expectations for promotion, etc. Like, will my VTO use count against me for training opportunities?

    Since I’m using it to apply to other jobs, obviously, I don’t really care in this case. :)

  32. pretty bird*

    I work for an organization with unlimited vacation and it’s honestly great.

    Unlimited vacation became a thing for us when the organization turned into a ROWE a few years back. As such, we don’t have structured work hours either. Employees are free to work whatever hours they want so long as they’re getting their work done, meeting their goals, and are in general high performers. Unlimited vacation goes sort of hand-in-hand with that. Most people work 9ish – 5ish because that’s the way the rest of the world works, and there are some positions with more rigid hours because of the nature of their role.

    It works really well at my organization because HR and leadership work to maintain it. Every department does yearly check ins to reinforce expectations and iron-out any trouble spots. Some of these expectations are answering emails within 24 hours, setting and adhering to deadlines, and yes, taking vacation. A couple of years ago it came out in an employee survey that staff felt like they couldn’t take time off and it was cutting into morale. So, the edict came down from the CEO that managers needed to be more aware of this and encourage their direct reportd to schedule some time off. No one was forced to vacation, mind you, the conversations were more like “I’ve noticed you haven’t taken time yet this year. Have you thought about taking time in the next couple of months? Is there anything you need to me to do/timelines we need to adjust to allow that to happen?”

    I’ve taken about 10 days so far this year, including a week’s vacation and a handful of days off here and there. I expect I’ll probably take another 8-10 days before the year is up. And that’s pretty much the same for the rest of the organization.

  33. ArtK*

    I’d like to hear a legal opinion. How do these policies play out in states where they are required to pay out PTO? Or states that require use-it-or-lose-it?

    1. Jerry Vandesic*

      For us it meant that already accrued (up to the date the new policy started) was paid out. After that there was no accrued vacation, so nothing to pay out when you left, and nothing to roll over.

  34. Mina*

    I’d much rather have a set number of PTO days than an “unlimited” vacation policy. I’ve heard time and time again that when a company has unlimited vacation, employees say “but good luck being able to take any of it.” A clear policy is much better. But even with a clear policy, some managers still question the work ethic of employees who actually do take their vacation days.

    A recent boss gave me a hard time whenever I took vacation days (we had a set number of days). I worked hard, achieved and exceeded my objectives, requested all of my vacation days far ahead of time and made sure I didn’t request time off during busy times for our company. One time, that manager accused me of being “M.I.A. during vacation” even though I made sure I had an alternate contact on my out of office email and voice mail messages, checked email on my smartphone to make sure there wasn’t anything I was missing, and it was a holiday week that was quiet anyway. She didn’t try to contact me while I was out. I had no email or voice mail from her and no missed calls. Another time she commented, “wow, you really take all of your vacation days, don’t you?”

    I’d hate to think what it would have been like if we had “unlimited” vacation at that company. There was also so much favoritism there that I’m sure some employees would have been able to take several weeks off without consequence while others would have been shamed into taking as little time off as possible, if any.

    Unlimited vacation sounds like it could be a good policy, but there is too much room for both employees and managers to take advantage of the situation.

  35. Hiring Mgr*

    This is nothing new in the tech world. I’ve been working at companies with this policy since 2004 and couldn’t imagine going back to the old way where you have to fill out forms and submit requests and you have a bank of time.

    Most people just seem to use good judgment and it works fine. I’m sure it doesn’t work for all companies in all situtations, but from my experience anything that treats employees like intelligent mature adults is a good thing..

    And any workplace where people are expected to come in with pinkeye or the stomach flu has more serious issues than vacation policy!

  36. Sarah*

    I will share a positive example of this. I’m a university professor, and at least for faculty, there is just literally no time off tracking system at all (I don’t think this is true everywhere, but is at our university). It’s expected that you will show up to teach you classes and to other meetings, and certainly someone would notice (because there would be complaints) if you suddenly stopped doing these things, although if there’s an emergency it’s also okay to cancel. Other than that, you obviously have certain performance expectations you have to meet (research productivity, grading deadlines, a certain amount of public outreach depending on your position), but no one is tracking whether you do it during 9-5 hours, at home or on campus, etc. etc. Now, it can be a very stressful environment in other ways, but I do really appreciate the flexibility and the fact that no one will notice or care if I’m working at half-speed from home for a week because I have a bad cold.

  37. Chiara*

    I love Alison’s answers, and I am reading this blog from Europe. I worked in different european countries and the number of vacation days would vary, but it was never less than 20 days per year (according to me, 20 days it’s a decent amount, but 30 days is ideal). In my previous company, we had an office in Prague and one in San Francisco. I was shocked because nobody was taking holidays ever in the SF office. We were far from overworked. Once I took a 3 weeks vacation, and I was a manager (didn’t take any other the rest of the year) and one guy in the SF office (not my report) told me “Aren’t you afraid that somebody is going to steal your job! 3 weeks is so much!”. It’s insane. I do believe the general attitude to holidays in the US is sad. I do not approve of unlimited holidays because I believe it’s very difficult for people to respect it, but I wouldn’t work for any company offering less than 20 days of holidays and I think there should be a policy like this in every office. Holidays are meant to be taken, work is not everything and this seems to escape a lot of people.

    1. Ann*

      Same in Canada. I get so shocked to see how little vacation people in the US get. We have 14 days vacation (whether you work in an office or fast food or wherever), PLUS there are statutory holidays that either have to give you the day off or pay you for overtime . It varies by province, but where I live we are nearly up to one stat holiday a month.

      In general, people in minimum wage jobs don’t actually see these policies result in actual time off (vacation time can be paid out, and stat holidays will just see them getting paid extra) but even then its a pretty good deal. There was always a scramble to work on stat holidays, and where I worked we got our vacation time paid out at the beginning of December which helped with Christmas presents (note also that you could request any time during the year that you get your accrued vacation time, which was also good in case of emergencies)

    2. Caro in the UK*

      Same for me in the UK. I get the equivalent of 5 weeks, plus national holidays. I always try and take one three-week block every year so that I can properly recharge, plus two one-week blocks. I also get comp time (instead of overtime) and last year I”d built up a lot due to some really busy periods at work, so I took almost all of December off (using three weeks of PTO and the rest comp time). It was fantastic!

      I’d definitely struggle with the average US PTO allowances.

  38. Jessica*

    I think an unlimited vacation policy is only likely to work in businesses that have a sane ratio of employees to workload. In a work situation (yeah, ask me how I know) where nobody new is hired no matter how much the work to be done grows, and as a result people end up with jobs they can’t possibly do a great job in no matter what effort they make, because of the sheer volume of work, it becomes difficult to even take the finite leave you officially have. Unlimited leave usually comes with the string of “as long as you get all your work done,” and in a situation where you CAN’T possibly get all the work done, it would not turn out well.

    DreadfulBoss once tried to make my planned vacations conditional, i.e. I could go as scheduled if A, B, and C were done. I was like NOPE; we can discuss priorities and what you want me to get done before my vacation that I’m scheduling for months from now, and I will do my best to get A, B, and C under control, but since I don’t have full control over A, B, and C, and can also neither control nor predict even more important emergency matters D through J that may erupt during that time period and hamper my ability to devote time to A, B, and C, when my scheduled (plans and commitments made with others, tickets and reservation, etc.) vacation arrives, I AM GOING ON IT, regardless of what state the rest of the alphabet is in.

    1. krysb*

      My workplace has it (except for the handful of hourly workers). We have a lot of autonomy built into the company culture. As long as our work is complete, no one is bothered. (Our standard workday is also only 6 hours – sometimes there’s overtime, but for the most part, we come in and leave whenever we feel like it.)

    2. Kj*

      Oh, this is so true! My work is literally never done because it is working with people and as soon as one person is off your caseload, another is added. If we had unlimited vacation but only could use it when our work was done, we’d never take any. As it is, I end up working part time on my days off 90% of the time because otherwise, people are suffering and I hate that. Yes, it unpaid work time and illegal, but it is also normal in my field. Fun times.

  39. D.D.*

    A former employer of mine changed its policy to allow “unlimited” vacation time, to much fanfare.

    Then came the catches. It turned out that the “unlimited” vacation time was at the manager’s discretion, and managers didn’t interpret that in the same way. Some felt it was only for extenuating circumstances; others were quite liberal with the time off.

    Also, with the “unlimited” vacation time, the other leave days we were granted were suddenly locked down. You used to use them for sick days, or if your kid was sick, or if you had an appointment, or needed a personal day. But then I tried to use one because I had to do our home inspection and was declined.

    Then they announced a (performance-based) contest where the prize was an extra vacation day. People started to ask questions about what kind of an incentive that was given that we already had “unlimited” vacation time. Then they had to clarify the policy that it was meant only to “reward” top performers who asked for it and had their manager’s okay, and even then it was only meant to be for an extra day or two so people who needed it but used up their time had it.

    I think in the end they took a big hit in terms of employee engagement and happiness. If they had just left it (the time off policy was good to begin with) they wouldn’t have dealt with a situation where it felt like they dangled a carrot under our noses only to take it away.

  40. Ann*

    My boyfriend’s company decided to implement unlimited vacation time, but did so in such a way to mitigate a lot of the downsides for employees.

    First off, they still have a ‘minimum’ of vacation time(though, this specific part might be because of law requirements for Canada, where we live).

    Secondly, they also have a benefits package which includes $1000 rebate(correct word??) for money spent on vacation, which is loose enough to be used in whatever way you find relaxing but I think has to be used during time off.

    And, because we live in Canada, they would definitely still have to be paid out two weeks of vacation if they hadn’t taken that much time during that year.

    I think these sorts of things make it really clear that they actually do want to have their employees take meaningful vacation, and be as well rested and productive as possible. Its certainly kept my boyfriend around longer than he otherwise would because the work itself isn’t his favourite, but the benefits (of which there are more than just vacation things) really keep him happy there.

  41. StartupLifeLisa*

    I have unlimited vacation and in principle I like the “we’re adults, let’s trust each other to be reasonable” idea, but in practice I am not impressed with most companies’ execution of the policy.

    In my current workplace, there’s definitely a culture where people who are more popular at the company can get away with more vacation, and people who are seen as lower in the social hierarchy (not the organizational hierarchy) are gossiped about if they take more time off. One of our engineers has been to Japan twice in two months & will be working remotely in San Francisco for a couple of weeks after returning from Japan. Another lead engineer spent 3 weeks in Spain last year. Sounds great, but then there’s everybody else – and most everybody else doesn’t take much time off at all, even when sick.

    (And don’t ask me about the person we just hired who took 2 paid vacations, was out sick for 2 weeks and then accepted another offer and left after 2 months!)

  42. SL #2*

    Maybe it’s just because I work somewhere that actively encourages us to use our vacation time, but I much prefer having unlimited days (which current company does not offer, but my old company did). I’m currently trying to bank enough days for a big Europe trip in spring of next year, and doing that means I literally cannot take a single day of vacation from now until that trip. Not even one day to extend a long weekend. That two-week trip will likely wipe out my entire bank of days for another year. I love my job, but it’s pretty demoralizing to realize that even though I have the money these days, I don’t have the official approved time to travel.

  43. Carla*

    I always feel like the best vacation benefits are having a generous number of days (e.g. 30 to 40) that are all available to you on January 1st, at an office where managers make an effort to use their vacation time. I currently work at a company where we get 15 – 25 days off (based on seniority), and unlimited sick leave (if you’re sick and can’t work, stay home), and everyone actively uses these benefits when they need to. That way when I want to take a long weekend, I don’t feel guilty.

    It’s also important not to reward people who don’t use sick days at all. My last job gave people who never took a sick day 2 extra PTO days.

  44. Not Rebee*

    I recently (three weeks ago) started a job at a (you guessed it) startup tech company in California with an unlimited time off policy. After coming from the mortgage industry, this is incredibly freeing (in theory) and I love the concept. Here’s what it means for me: the vacation I was going to take this year with my mom is something I actually get to take – I took no vacation the first year and a half (of four) at my old job and then took several week long vacations in the last few years, including two week long trips to Hawaii, one two week long trip to Germany, a week in New York, and another week in New Orleans. Between that and ordinary PTO usage (a sick day here and a few hours there), it would have been tight to take another week long vacation and still leave myself with some hours to be flexible with in case I got sick or needed to take additional time off. If I had kids, or a significant other (who could get sick and need someone to stay with them) this would be even more of a concern as I’d need enough time for my own needs as well as some to meet theirs as well and my remaining balance would get even tighter.

    Now I can’t honestly say if I’ll be taking more vacation than usual since I’m only 3 weeks into my time here and I don’t like to take time off (unless totally sick or on a reasonable vacation) when I’m new to a job. That being said, I have witnessed that in this company people tend to be really relaxed about not coming into the office but also that, as a tech company, people are rarely out of pocket even when out for the day.

  45. Beth Anne*

    The thing about PTO nowadays and sick time is so many managers are bad managers and don’t even allow employees to take any no matter what the policy. They make you feel bad for being sick and make you feel like you have to come in anyway. So it’s like it doesn’t matter what the policy is.

    Idk I’ve never worked anywhere where I got PTO…it’s kind of sad. I’ve been able to get the time off but it’s always unpaid..which sucks just the same. So be lucky a lot of people get something.

  46. HR Bee*

    We actually just switched from a combined “use-PTO-for-everything” policy to a two-bank policy, vacation and sick. Vacation scales based on seniority and is the same between exempt and non-exempt staff, while sick time is a set, constant amount across the company and only tracked for non-exempt staff. Salaried exempt staff are not asked to use any kind of paid time off when they are sick; the idea is as long as they are meeting their duties and goals, it shouldn’t matter exactly when they are in the office.

    We’re hoping that separating the two types of time out will encourage people to take their vacation and stop hoarding it in case they get sick, and, in the reverse, to feel free and clear to take a sick day when needed.

    So far, it’s been nice to be able to say to confused salaried staff “if you need a guideline for how much sick time to use, well, the hourly staff get this much, so if you’re close to that you’re probably fine.” But we only just implemented this, so we’ll see how it shakes out.

  47. Millennial*

    My company has an unlimited time off policy woth recommended 5 days a quarter at managers discretion. What this actually means is, never take unscheduled sick leave because manager doesn’t like it, dont take an hour off here and there for appointments and life as it comes up, but instead make up your hours by doing 9-10 hour days on other days throughout the week. However if you have a vacation you want go on and you notify your manager in advance you can do that, but be aware that a favor is being done for you. PTO and having a set number not only means a payout when you leave a job, but also that you as an employee are entitled to using those days. Anyone telling you unlimited time off is better is spinning giving employees less benefits.

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