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Is Unlimited PTO a Trap?

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Unlimited PTO has been a prevalent trend in recent years, particularly among tech companies and startups. While many companies actually offer this service, most people know (unspoken) that "unlimited" is never truly unlimited. The truth is that few businesses could function if they were actually treated this way.

And here's the catch: Unlimited PTO has the weight of psychology to back it up - it's a golden offer that very few people can actually take advantage of. In fact, there are many reasons why unlimited PTO can be detrimental to morale and productivity. Ironically, employee satisfaction and retention are among the most common reasons for offering unlimited PTO.

But as with anything, it's important to understand the pros and cons of this approach and how to realistically manage expectations.

What is Unlimited PTO?

Ostensibly, it's what it sounds like: a policy that gives employees as much time off as they want without affecting their pay. Employers know that employees who are happier, more fulfilled and more relaxed are more likely to keep their jobs and remain loyal to the company - so in theory this strengthens the relationship between employer and employee and is beneficial for all parties.

However, some companies see this as a way to reduce the risk of turnover rather than a way to promote a positive company culture. And in fact, the success of any policy depends on the deeply rooted attitudes of those responsible.

So let’s look at the pros and cons of unlimited PTO, shall we?

What do employers get out of it?

Why should your company offer unlimited PTO? Or what is the logic behind your current offer of unlimited PTO?

Easier recruitment

Unlimited PTO is probably helpful in your hiring and recruiting efforts because it just sounds good. According to a Metlife survey, unlimited PTO is one of the most desired benefits across all generations: 80% of Millennials, 70% of Generation X, and 63% of Boomers agree.

Maybe it's because employees can take time off without wondering if they have enough vacation days left - and even if they don't take time off, they know they can. They feel valued by their employer. In today's world of overwork, chronic stress and burnout, that's not a small thing.

Less administrative work

A huge benefit of unlimited PTO is that there are no PTO accruals to contend with. This means you don't have to pay your employees any unused PTO at the end of the year, as you would if you took limited time off.

This significantly reduces and simplifies the administrative burden by eliminating the need to track how much PTO employees earn and use over time - a task that requires complicated annual calculations and quickly becomes overwhelming with a large workforce.

Cost savings

As counterintuitive as it may be, unlimited PTO can save your business money. Why? For the simple reason that you are not obliged to pay for unused vacation days.

In contrast, many employers are expected to pay employees for unused PTO days before they leave the company. Depending on the size of the workforce and the frequency with which they use unused PTO days, the cost difference can be huge.

Disadvantages of Unlimited PTO for Employers

Unlimited PTO also has some clear disadvantages for employers:

Excessive use of PTO

Although most employees are not inclined to overuse or abuse unlimited PTO, the potential for abuse still exists. Some employees take advantage and take extra long vacations or frequent sick or sick days just because they can.

Of course, this can lead to understaffing, productivity bottlenecks and increased workloads for other employees, which is not good for overall morale and employee retention.

Potential for mismanagement

An unlimited number of vacation days can make getting work done challenging at times. Certain types of employees (those most prone to abusing unlimited PTO) may be less likely to perform their jobs well.

This, in turn, can lead to work piling up, deadlines being missed, meetings being postponed, and emails being ignored - just to name a few examples. In other words: the opposite of a well-oiled machine.

Underutilization of PTO

According to the SHRM, companies that offer unlimited PTO unofficially limit vacation time to three to six weeks. However, research shows that employees with unlimited PTO typically only take 13 days off per year, which is two days fewer than employees working under traditional PTO policies.

It turns out that the concept of unlimited PTO creates uncertainty and anxiety, which makes employees hesitant to take vacation. Not knowing how much PTO is "appropriate" prevents employees from taking adequate time for their basic wellness - and a lack of employee wellness can have a very negative impact on your bottom line.

Benefits of Unlimited PTO for Employees

Since the majority of employees find unlimited PTO one of their most valued benefits, it's worth considering the benefits for your employees:

Mental health

Used correctly, unlimited PTO has undeniable (and invaluable) potential to help employees maintain a healthy work-life balance, which is critical to their mental health and overall well-being.

There's a good reason why some employees rate work-life balance as more valuable than health benefits. The former prevent burnout and are ultimately a form of health care.


Unlimited PTO gives employees the freedom to decide when they need time off and how long they will be away - without the added burden of having to justify those decisions. This flexibility can make it much easier for people who have children or other dependents to take needed time off without feeling like they are letting down their employer or colleagues.

Morale and productivity

Employees who can decide how much free time they need tend to feel more valued and respected by the company and are therefore more motivated to do great work. The result is higher employee morale and productivity, as well as greater customer satisfaction - all of which is good for business, not to mention your company's overall reputation.

Disadvantages for employees

Disadvantages for employees mean disadvantages for employers and vice versa. Remember the following points:


Since unlimited vacation days tend to cause the unexpected - and often discourage employees from taking their rightful annual vacation - increased burnout among employees is a sure sign that your unlimited vacation days are backfiring. In these cases, there can be an overall decline in productivity and motivation, as well as an increase in turnover rates, which is bad for both employees and the company as a whole.

Workplace hostility

While the point of unlimited PTO is to give employees the confidence to take control of their lives, in cases where employees overuse the policy, it can cause resentment among co-workers who have to catch up , leading to animosity in the workplace. Conversely, employees who care more about what their colleagues think of them may take fewer vacation days than they should. In any case, the dynamic is disturbed.

Lack of work-life balance

Typically, an employee who plans to use their vacation will see their workload double in advance of their time off. Additionally, nearly 30% of employees with unlimited PTO report working while on vacation - twice as likely as employees with limited PTO.

And that's not all: they also tend to work more after returning to work to make up for lost time. Overall, this inability to fully disengage from work may be fueled by the climate of uncertainty created by "unlimited" PTO policies. The clear result is a noticeable lack of work-life balance.

How to make unlimited PTO work for your business

If you've decided on an unlimited number of vacation days and are sticking to it, taking steps to promote a positive company culture can be the key to success - a company culture where work-life balance is valued and respected and mental well-being is taken seriously .

Encouraging employees to take time off is also an effective and direct contribution to a healthy work culture. You could set a good example by taking some time off from work yourself. Not only is this an invaluable benefit to you, but it also helps normalize unexcused time off among your employees and promotes the overall health of the company.

In short, do whatever it takes to create a climate where your employees feel comfortable and not anxious about taking a much-needed break.

Striking the right balance with Unlimited PTO is crucial. Encourage a positive culture and use IceHrm tools for seamless management, ensuring employee well-being and company success.

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