The Good Side & Bad Side of Unlimited PTO

Depending on your experience with the perk, the phrase “unlimited PTO” may excite you or may make you roll your eyes. Why is there such a disparity of opinion about companies that offer unlimited paid time off? Because companies utilize this perk in different ways and for different reasons. This can create a lot of confusion during your job hunt, but it doesn’t need to. Let’s get a better understanding the good side and the bad side of unlimited PTO so you’re able to spot the difference, starting with the good side.

Unlimited PTO Pros

1. Prevents Burnout, Increases Autonomy: When your employer trusts you to self-regulate and get your job done on your own schedule, you have a lot more freedom and autonomy. That’s essentially what unlimited PTO offers. Plus, this perk ensures you have enough time to take off during the year so you’ll never have to worry about burnout. Instead, you can focus on giving your all while you’re at working and enjoying your time off when you need it.

2. Never Counting Down Your Remaining Days: We’ve all had those moments (typically towards the end of the year and the holiday season) where we’re counting up the days we’ve already taken and hoping we have enough left to get us through. But, with unlimited PTO, you don’t have to worry about an unplanned flu in February getting in the way of your Thanksgiving vacation. Unlimited PTO means you don’t have to count down the remaining days of paid time off you have left and that, in and of itself, can be liberating.

3. Improved Work-life Balance: You know that work-life balance thing everyone is always talking about? You’ll definitely have a better version of it if you have unlimited paid time off (at least if that unlimited really means what it says, we’ll get to the disparity there in a moment).

Unlimited PTO Cons

1. Decreases the Amount of PTO Employees Use: While it may seem counterintuitive, multiple studies have shown that unlimited PTO often results in employees taking fewer days off per year. Why? In some instances, it creates a race to the bottom style competition among coworkers. They compete to see who can take the fewest number of days off because no one wants to be the one in the office who is seen as lazy or not pulling their weight for the team.

2. Seen as a Line Item Discount: Here’s the thing, some companies aren’t offering unlimited PTO to encourage their employees to take more time off and prevent burnout. Instead, they look at this perk as a way to eliminate a budget line item. Why? Because without accrued PTO, they won’t have to compensate you for the PTO you didn’t use when you leave the company.

3. May Only Offer Raises or Promotions to Employees Who Use Less PTO: While this practice can happen at any company, not just the ones offering unlimited PTO, certain organizations will only promote or offer raises to employees who use little-to-none of their paid time off. While this practice is indicative of larger organizational issues surrounding work-life balance, it’s still more common than you think and is a definite downside that can accompany unlimited PTO.

Now that you have a better understanding of how unlimited PTO can enhance your work-life balance or limit your career—depending on how it’s implemented—here are a few suggestions you can use to tell the difference during your job search.

1. Ask Your Recruiter: Asking about paid time off during your interview can make you seem like you don’t want the job at all, you’re just there for the perks and you’ll be gone a lot of the time. That’s where your recruiter can play a pivotal role! If they’re good at their job, they’ll know how the company runs and the intimate details of their unlimited PTO policy (or they’ll find out for you without giving away that you’re the interested party). Ask the following questions of them, rather than the company itself, and you’ll get straight-forward answers you can count on without running the risk of damaging your first impression during the interview process.

2. Does the company have a PTO minimum? One way that companies counteract the fact that unlimited PTO often leads to employees taking less time off or no time off at all is by enacting a PTO minimum. Basically, they require you to take a certain number of days of paid time off per year. This prevents burnout, invigorates employee engagement, and encourages employees to proactively schedule paid time off throughout the year. If the company has a PTO minimum as part of their unlimited PTO offering, you can count on a better work-life balance.

3. Days of PTO Taken in the Last Year: Whether you ask for the average for the whole company, ask specific team members who you would be working with how many they took individually, or ask the manager in charge of approving your PTO, this will give you a general sense of what is considered standard for the position you’re applying for. If it’s on the low end, the unlimited paid time off may be more limited than advertised.

4. What scenarios would lead to PTO not being approved? This is an important question to ask and, while bringing up paid time off during your interview isn’t the best idea, you can ask this question once an offer has been extended your way. If they generally approve paid time off and would only deny it in extreme circumstances, you’re looking at a less restrictive PTO structure. If the list of reasons is lengthy or all encompassing, it may give you pause. While more restrictive unlimited PTO isn’t always a deal breaker, it’s definitely a factor you should consider before accepting the position.

There’s a good side and a bad side to unlimited PTO. Use this guide to weigh the pros and cons, spot the difference between one company’s version of unlimited PTO and another company’s version of the same perk, and make a smarter decision during your job search.