Unlimited PTO: What is it and what are the pros and cons?

Guest Author 15.02.2023

Unlimited PTO (paid time off) arrangements are becoming more and more popular among employees as well as HR specialists. While this arrangement was widely applied by IT firms in the past, many traditional companies were forced into this practice during the pandemic. Especially when social distancing rules and strict lockdowns led to the need to keep workers away from the premises. 

As it turns out, multiple organizations have seen huge benefits to offering unlimited PTO to their workers and are now willing to retain it throughout the 2020s. But what does this practice look like from the perspective of employees and job seekers? Let’s explore what unlimited paid time off is, what its pros and cons are, and why it may be a deciding factor in the job-hunting process.

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But first – what is unlimited PTO?

Essentially, unlimited PTO is a vacation policy with real flexibility, allowing staff to take paid leave whenever required without there being a limit to the number of days the employee takes off. 

Unlike traditional vacation policies giving you a certain number of days off per year, unlimited PTO is much more flexible. Effectively, you can spend any amount of time away from the office as long as that’s ok with your colleagues and you manage to consistently meet your deadlines. 

However, unlimited PTO doesn’t really mean unlimited. Taking 365 days off and being paid isn’t reasonable from your employer’s point of view. Therefore, this vacation policy offers flexible time off when the time is agreed upon with the rest of your team, and any remaining work or projects can be tied up beforehand.

Pros of unlimited paid time off

Happy employee with unlimited PTO

Allowing time for family problems and obligations

Unlimited paid time off is an optimal choice if you cannot follow the usual 9-to-5 routine due to sick family members, small children, or personal health problems. Whether these issues are long-lasting or temporary, a different work schedule or moving to a part-time position could be in for you. 

Unlimited PTO allows you to ‘stay in the loop’ without becoming a fully remote worker by physically meeting your team members and participating in your company activities and meetings. However, you can easily shift the focus to your family or personal issues whenever necessary, potentially allowing you to stay productive despite the challenging conditions in your private life. If you encounter any of such challenges, unlimited paid time off may be one of the deciding factors in choosing a particular job position. 

A greater sense of personal happiness

Many workers don’t like freelance arrangements as a lifestyle but may want some of its core elements, including flexible schedules, the capability to perform some operations from home, or the possibility of coming to the office during unconventional hours. Thus, integrating work seamlessly into your life and in a way that works for you is a huge benefit to unlimited PTO.

In addition, unlimited vacation helps you to organize holidays without fitting them into your work schedule or cutting it short because you used too many days of holiday previously. This can increase your personal happiness as you recharge on holiday without having to worry about work.  

Better career opportunities

two colleagues talking outside an office building

A company allowing you to freely choose your optimal working hours and days is a company that trusts you and cares for you. This approach may be seen as the direct opposite of overwork cultures forcing you to burn the midnight oil daily to get ahead. Therefore, an unlimited vacation policy can make prospective companies seem much more attractive and prompt you to leave your current role to pursue a better career with a better company.

Improved work-life balance

In many cases, work-life balance issues emerge from the inability to have more time for your personal goals. Unlimited paid time off may be a perfect solution to such a problem due to its flexibility. And according to several surveys, motivated employees rarely abuse the unlimited PTO system. 

Improved productivity

Many workers using unlimited time off arrangements actually work harder due to their capability to alternate optimal periods of rest with periods of productivity. If you are a productive and performance-oriented specialist, unlimited PTO allows you to adjust your lifestyle to your working style, helping you to fully use your inner biological rhythms and inner ‘happy hours’ of top productivity

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No holiday rush at the end of the year

Most employers do not offer holiday rollover to the next year. This can make it difficult for all employees when everyone begins to take their remaining holiday at the same time at the end of the year, putting pressure on everyone else to pick up the slack from low staffing.

Unlimited PTO doesn’t have this restriction, and there will be less pressure for employees to take their remaining days off. As a result, staff will be much happier, and staffing levels won’t be strained.

If you simply need several days off from time to time to better cope with your life challenges, you should definitely hunt for positions offering unlimited paid time off options.

Possible cons with unlimited PTO promises

pros  and cons of unlimited PTO

That said, unlimited paid time off is not a universal good per se. There are multiple factors you should consider to ensure that specific employers really understand this concept and imply it properly. Here are some problems that this vacation policy can incur.

It can come at a cost

Many organizations use unlimited PTO policies to increase their competitive attractiveness in the labor market, and it doesn’t resemble a genuine implementation of it. As a result, you can find yourself able to take multiple leaves but encounter a toxic performance management system promoting overtime work. Nothing is more frustrating than finding that your increased flexibility comes at the cost of severe salary cuts and lost career opportunities. 

An added strain on your colleagues

why offer unlimited PTO

Taking lots of time off can add pressure and work for your colleagues. They will be required to pick up your slack or take over your current tasks if you have incomplete projects. This can be very difficult for others, particularly if your tasks require specific knowledge and experience. 

More pressure can come from unexpected events or tasks that can pile up with fewer employees. This can create a poor working environment and hostility when you return from your break.

Unfairness and conflict with colleagues

Although traditional holiday allowance can feel restrictive, it does provide a framework for fair holiday entitlement for all employees. Unlimited PTO does offer the same flexibility to all, and it is down to employees to take a holiday when they want; however, this can lead to a sense of unfairness if a few employees take lots of holidays whereas others don’t. Such a situation can create tension and friction within teams, potentially making it harder for them to work together.

Blurred boundaries

Due to the flexibility and seemingly casual nature of the unlimited PTO policy, employees and employers may feel inclined to text or email during holiday time. After all, the people vacationing can take another holiday at any time. Therefore, it can lead to blurred boundaries and people working during their time off.

Should unlimited PTO be a deciding factor when hunting for a job?

a job interview

There are many factors to consider when looking for a new job. Not only it’s the job itself, responsibilities, and required qualifications, but it also comes down to your personal requirements. Often the number of holiday days in traditional vacation policies is a deciding factor. So why shouldn’t unlimited PTO be a factor, too?

Unlimited PTO is a very attractive policy if you are looking for more flexibility and the opportunity to take time off for, say, family obligations or other personal matters. Such a policy can also be a breaking point if you’re looking for a better work-life balance or prefer elements of a freelancing lifestyle.

However, if you value fairness in the workplace, unlimited PTO may not be for you. This policy, if not managed well by the employer, can leave you overworking to make up for your or others’ time off and even cause burnout as a result – the complete opposite of what unlimited PTO is all about.

This is a guest post by Ellie Richards. She is an Online Marketing Manager for Original Ph.D. She is passionate about researching and writing on various topics, including education, marketing, and technology.

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