Is Unlimited PTO a Scam?

Unlimited PTO is a growing trend for vacation time policies for companies where in theory there’s no hard cap on the amount of personal time off you can take off in a year unlike the traditional policies of a hard limit of 2-4 weeks, depending on the company. This on the surface level sounds great! You can take as much time off as you want or need in a year without penalty, at least within reason. But at the same rate that this is becoming a trend for companies, there’s a growing mistrust around this kind of “unlimited personal time off” policy that it’s really a scam. What’s the truth behind this? In reality, there’s two things.

Root concern is a company’s respect for employees, not this specific policy

When people say that this is a scam or not a scam, isn’t truly reflected in the unlimited PTO policy. In reality, it’s the individual company’s policy in how they treat their employees and their work / life balance. There are companies with unlimited PTO policies that do allow you to take a lot of time off. I know people that have taken 40-50 business days off from work and no one cared. I also know that there are companies on the other end of the spectrum that have PTO policies and really only allow their employees to take a few days off in a year.

The critical thing to realize is that this exact problem exists in companies without unlimited PTO. I know many companies with accrued PTO that have the same unhealthy view of their employees where they reject time off even though people have the time to take.

So in reality, the root issue is a company’s culture, not a specific policy. If a company has a healthy culture, they’ll encourage and allow you to take all the time you need. If the company’s culture is unhealthy, they’ll punish you and prevent you from taking time off.

Individual’s personal use of their time off

It’s too easy to put the blame on a company and say that they’re treating their employees poorly. But there is a large number of people that work in a healthy environment, and absolutely could take time off, but they don’t. And that’s on them. I personally have seen too many people that could have taken 20-40 days off in a year, and don’t take any, or take very few days off. Even when you have healthy leaders pushing people to take time off, people still don’t.

In that way, it’s not even about the policy itself, because it won’t matter if it’s accrued or unlimited, if the person doesn’t use it, then that’s on them.

So in the end, unlimited PTO policies isn’t really about the policy itself. In reality, it’s both about the company’s and team’s culture, and the individual employee. So if you work in and environment with it, or are applying to a job that has that policy, it’s not a red flag. And also, if you have time off that can be taken, please use it. There’s more to life than work.