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Career Advice

A guide for not limiting yourself with unlimited PTO

Posted by Glassdoor Team

Career Advice Experts

Last Updated July 26, 2022
|4 min read

Unlimited paid time off (PTO) sounds like an employee’s dream come true. It’s exactly what it sounds like: There’s no set limit to the number of days an employee can take off, (though many companies still ask employees to mark their out-of-office days on the company calendar). But data shows that employees with fixed leave amounts take an average of 15 days of leave annually, while those with unlimited PTO only take 13. 

To help you make the most of unlimited PTO, we’re breaking down the basics: what it is, how to use it, and mistakes to avoid.

The appeal of unlimited PTO 

PTO is one of the most important and popular benefits to employees, outranking dental, vision, and 401(k) plans. A Glassdoor survey found that employees prefer more PTO to a pay raise. The only perk employees care about more is healthcare coverage. 

Employee appreciation for unlimited PTO policies has only grown since the pandemic's start. According to a new poll from Fishbowl by Glassdoor, employees rated unlimited PTO at 4.55 on a 5-point scale in 2022, up from 4.25 before the pandemic began in 2019. By contrast, the average rating for vacation and PTO programs that do not mention “unlimited” was only 4.12 out of 5, indicating employees distinctly favor unlimited PTO programs.

For employees who actually use their unlimited PTO, the benefit can reduce stress around things like sickness or caring for a child or dependent and help prevent burnout. For employers, unlimited PTO is a recruitment tool and a money-saver: It lowers administrative costs for tracking paid leave and eliminates unpaid leave buyouts if an employee exits the company.

Houston, we have a PTO problem

Disconnecting from work is important for employees and employers. Humans are susceptible to burnout — especially in demanding jobs — and need breaks to recharge. PTO also increases overall productivity in a company. It’s an investment, not a gift.

But people are really bad at leaving their work behind.

Our poll found that most workers have trouble unplugging from work while taking time off, with 54% of professionals reporting that they are unable or do not believe they can fully unplug while on PTO. Almost two-thirds of professionals over 45 say they are unable or do not believe they can fully unplug on PTO, compared to 47% of Gen Z workers between ages 21- 25.

With a fixed PTO policy, like 15 days per year, you know the terms. If a company allows you to accrue and later cash out unused leave, you may miss summer vacation, but you’ll still receive a cash benefit down the line. Similarly, if you work for a company with a  use-it-or-lose-it PTO policy, you understand that there’s no benefit to leaving PTO on the table.

At companies with unlimited PTO, it can be harder to quantify how much PTO is “reasonable,” so employees are less likely to take time off.

Adopting a pro-PTO mentality

To be clear: No manager is going to reward — or even tolerate — a team member who tests the boundaries of unlimited PTO. If your work suffers because you're constantly crisscrossing the globe, you’re not going to fare well on performance reviews. 

A measured approach to unlimited leave is best, especially when you’re new to a company. Start with a target, like 10-15 days of leave in a year. (According to Zenefits, the average job in the U.S. offers 10 days of PTO — not including sick leave or paid holidays — after one year of service.) Some companies with unlimited PTO nudge their teams toward similar targets by setting a minimum PTO expectation. Hubspot, for example, redefined its unlimited leave policy as “two weeks to infinity” after employees expressed reservations about taking time off. 

View this discussion on Fishbowl

There will always be projects to finish, but that shouldn’t discourage you from enjoying a reasonable amount of paid leave. When in doubt, talk to your manager before you schedule leave, and work out contingency plans for any pressing tasks. A little bit of preparation goes a long way in helping you relax during PTO.

Get help navigating the world of unlimited PTO

It’s okay to feel confused about unlimited PTO policies: It’s still a relatively new concept. Fortune estimates that only 9% of workers currently receive unlimited PTO. 

If you’re looking for a company that offers unlimited PTO, check out this Glassdoor roundup. If you still have questions about the best way to capitalize on unlimited PTO, post a query or join a conversation on Fishbowl.