Hearing someone say they have unlimited paid time off is one of those things that inevitably makes you go, “Huh.Really?” This work benefit remains a relative novelty across industries, but the appeal hasundeniably grownbeyond the tech start-up sector.Netflix and Virgin Groupwere among the first big-name companies to adopt the vacation policy for employees. Just a few years later, you’re likely to run into someone who’s ready for a debate on the merits andflaws of unlimited PTO.
Chief among the complaints about unlimited PTO is, well,do people actually use it?You don’t have to search too far on the web to find critics of unlimited PTO who argue such policies actually have theoppositeof the intended effect. Instead of encouraging employees to take however many days off they desire, unlimited PTO policies can create a sense of competition and dread among employees. Nobody wants to be seen as the slacker in the office. The lack of guidance and metrics by which you can measure time off can make you second-guess whether it’s ever appropriate to ask for a break.
So, how do you go about making sure you’reactuallymaking use of a company’s unlimited paid time off policy? Or, if your company doesn’t have one, how do you make sure you useallof your vacation, instead of making do with less?
If you’re nervous about asking your boss for your R&R days, keep reading.
First things first, “unlimited” PTO does not equal “infinite” PTO
“Unlimited PTO” has a bit of a branding problem. Let’s be real, your boss is not going to give the A-O-K on you taking off for six months to travel the globe. The policy is meant to lift the burden from everyone involved so that requests for time off aren’t tedious and constricted by a calendar handled by Linda in HR.
An unlimited PTO policy is intended to ensure you’re not sweating profusely when you’re debating whether you have to hire additional childcare during school holidays or whether you can really have an extended weekend if you get an unexpected wedding invite. Remember, policies like this are based on mutual trust and respect between employers and companies. The goal is ultimately to give you the freedom to act responsibly in your own—and in the company’s—best interest. Think of it this way—taking off time is necessary because it will ultimately make you A) happier in life and B) more productive at work. Win-win.
For more clarity, ask about mandatory minimums and other procedures
It might seem counterintuitive to ask for guidelines or “minimums” in an unlimited PTO setting, but it’s in your best interest to ask your boss what s/he expects of you. Your company might have an expected minimum time off or a certain number of days that they find reasonable for someone to take every quarter. Start a conversation with your supervisor to see where the company stands and then ask for what the procedures for requesting time off are. They might prefer you don’t take off during the week before a big launch or when there’s a client presentation.
Consider things from the manager’s perspective to help your case
In a truly egalitarian world, everyone gets equal treatment. Of course, this one’s far different. If you’re a total noob at the company who is still figuring out how to work the coffee machine, your boss is less likely to grant you a full two weeks’ vacation right off the bat.
Understand that managers might be more receptive to more senior members of a team asking for time off because they’ve proven themselves to be able to handle their expectations and workload effectively. Wherever you rank in the company, though, you up your chances of getting time off approved when your focus is first on your contribution to the team. Consider: You’ve clocked in 65 hours one week and hit a major milestone at work. Asking for a day off suddenly makes a lot more sense.
Always make sure there’s someone to help carry your load
This is especially true when you’re working in a small company or team where everyone’s expertise is key to success. Managers feel more comfortable with you getting some days off if you can assure them there’s someone else who’s ready to fill in your shoes while you’re away. If possible, make some headway into upcoming work before you leave and make sure you’ve lined up a second-in-command so that your team can keep the wheels turning. It’s easier for your boss (and for you) to rationalize time off when you can safely say that you won’t be swamped in work on the first day you’re back.
Now, go forth! Enjoy your days under the sun, on the couch, or wherever that brings you that much-needed rest before you head back to the office. You’ve earned it.