Should You Consider Unlimited PTO?

woman reading on the beach in a hammock
Lin Grensing-Pophal, SPHR Photo
Contributing Writer

2 minutes

The concept of unlimited paid time off has become a trendy HR topic lately as companies like Netflix and LinkedIn  have adopted the practice. The concept really reflects the epitome of über work-life balance. But is it a good idea?

Bryon Nabors, VP/talent at $1.7 billion GTE Financial , with 500 full-time equivalents in Tampa Bay, Fla., doesn’t think so. “For those organizations where the employee is more of a contact point—as in CUs—we serve our members, and unlimited PTO could possibly threaten that member service.” But, he adds, “Obviously a credit union could try it, and I would applaud those that do; we love innovation.”

Still, he says, for those considering the option, it’s important to step back to consider the why behind it. “If we’re trying to accommodate the creep of technology into our employees’ lives, I’m not sure unlimited PTO is the answer to that. I’d rather focus on creating a workplace that recognizes the importance of work-life separation, encourages it and backs it.” 

CUES member Michelle Hedges, EVP/chief talent and knowledge officer for $570 million/29,000-member Power Financial Credit Union , with 20 FTEs in Pembroke Pines, Fla., also says it’s not something she would currently consider. And, she adds: “I don’t know of anybody that has considered it and has been successful.” Research from the Society for Human Resources Management supports her perceptions. The group’s research indicates that, of those companies that offer PTO plans, only 6 percent offer unlimited time off.

It’s also interesting to note that full-time workers in the United States tend to leave some of their vacation time on the table. Stephen Miller, CEBS, with HR Magazine  reported that full-time workers in the U.S. took an average of 20.3 vacation days a year from 1978-2000; today workers are taking only 16.2 days/year on average.

Why? A number of reasons are cited, including not wanting to return to a lot of work, feeling no one else can fill in for them, wanting to show their dedication or wanting to appear irreplaceable. Even those organizations that are offering “unlimited time off” may find that the majority of their staff are still staying within conventional allocations!

Lin Grensing-Pophal, SPHR, is a freelance writer and human resource management and marketing communication consultant in Chippewa Falls, Wis. She is the author of The Everything Guide to Customer Engagement (Adams Media, 2014) and Human Resource Essentials (SHRM, 2010).

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