What Are Tips for Navigating an Unlimited PTO Policy?
From implementing specific guidelines to considering the additional project hours you will need to make up for employee time-offs, here are nine answers to the question, “What are tips for navigating an unlimited PTO policy?”
- Have Explicit Expectations
- Be Prepared for Absences
- Set Clear Guidelines on How Much Time Off is Reasonable
- Understand Your Company’s Policy
- Don’t Keep Score
- Communicate Thoroughly and Honestly
- Plan to Take Time Off in Advance
- Lead by Example
- Include Time-Offs in Your Work and Delivery Schedules
Have Explicit Expectations
While a lot of job seekers find an unlimited PTO policy an important aspect of a company, you want to be careful with what the word “unlimited” implies within your organization and manage accordingly.
For example, you want to clarify that there are guidelines for an unlimited PTO policy and that the work still needs to be done properly and in a timely fashion.
Making these expectations clear during the interview and hiring processes is important to ensure your new hires understand your organization’s standards for PTO, despite the unlimited aspect.
Be Prepared for Absences
Unlimited PTO shouldn’t be something to blame for harming your business. The thought of an essential employee taking a week off in the middle of a busy period keeps many businesses from embracing unlimited PTO at a conceptual level.
This is a fear-based on unpreparedness, and not on the PTO itself. Simply put, if you’re running a business where a single absence of an employee has the potential to hamper your business goals, even over a long period, then it’s time to look at your process rather than your policies.
Businesses should streamline their operations so that PTO-related absences don’t cause unforeseen issues. Unlimited PTO will only work for your business if it’s adequately prepared to run with any configuration of workers. No singular person should be expected to be the linchpin of a business’s success.
Set Clear Guidelines on How Much Time Off is Reasonable
With navigating an unlimited PTO policy, one important tip is to set guidelines around how much time off is reasonable and how frequently employees should take time off. Although the policy is unlimited, it’s important to make sure that employees are taking enough time off to avoid burnout, but not so much that it affects their work or the work of their team.
Setting guidelines can help ensure that everyone agrees and prevent misunderstandings about how the policy should be used. For example, you might set expectations around how many days per quarter or per year employees should take off, or encourage employees to take a certain number of days off per month.
By setting clear guidelines and encouraging open communication, companies can create a more effective and sustainable unlimited PTO policy that benefits both employees and the organization.
Understand Your Company’s Policy
An unlimited PTO policy may sound straightforward, but it’s important to understand the specific guidelines and expectations set by your company. Make sure you know how much notice you need to give before taking time off if there are blackout periods, and if there are any limitations on consecutive days off.
Don’t Keep Score
Unlimited PTO is both a privilege and a responsibility that doesn’t work without trust. Employers need to trust employees to know how to manage their PTO during the year and not hold the expectation that they plan to abuse their privilege.
The vast majority of employees will responsibly use their PTO time, balancing work and life equally in order to maintain their financial situation. Employees need their jobs and aren’t likely to use their PTO in a way that risks losing their jobs.
If there are problem employees, you’ll be able to root them out easily and deal with problem behaviors. Those will be outlier situations, not the standard. There is no need to count or keep the score of employee PTO. Treat employees with respect and communicate if you need to.
Communicate Thoroughly and Honestly
The strongest tip is to communicate thoroughly and keep your reasons honest for taking time off. When some hear the phrase “unlimited PTO,” a thought goes through their mind for a quick moment: “What if I needed time off all the time?”
It has happened where someone will accept a job and then immediately go on leave. So obviously, “unlimited” is conditional. You still have to work. And most employment in the US is “at will,” meaning a person can be let go without cause.
Unlimited PTO is a great perk to have at any company. And to protect that perk, one must never take it for granted and always hold themselves accountable for communicating when they will be out, why, and when they will return.
Plan to Take Time Off in Advance
An unlimited PTO policy can cause your fellow team members to delay or disrupt productivity if you exercise your freedom without warning. To avoid such issues, plan and communicate time off in advance. This practice allows team members and management to work around any absence and fill in any gaps by either reassigning projects or postponing them.
Co-founder and CMO, ParcelPanel
Lead by Example
One tip for navigating an unlimited PTO policy is for managers and executives to lead the way in taking days off. When employees see their leaders taking advantage of the PTO policy, it sends a transparent message that the company values time off and that it is safe to take it.
By actively promoting a healthy work-life balance and encouraging employees to take time off when they need it, managers and executives can help to create a culture of wellness and prevent burnout.
Ultimately, by setting an example and leading by action, managers and executives can help to ensure that the unlimited PTO policy is used effectively and that employees feel supported and valued.
Founder and DEI Consultant, Clayborne Consulting
Include Time-Offs in Your Work and Delivery Schedules
When managers and employees get down to negotiating or working out their options around unlimited PTOs, they invariably find project schedules and targets coming in the way. This is a problem in most work environments because our usual approach is to first arrive at our work or project deadlines and then work our employee breaks around them.
The solution is to do this the other way around. Even as you prepare the blueprint to meet work deadlines, consider the additional project hours you will need to make up for employee time-offs. This way, you will have already worked your employees’ leaves into your schedules, resulting in realistic deadlines that are woven around your workforce’s time-offs.
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