The worker-empowering alternative to the “unlimited paid time off” scam

True wellness comes from employee power, not empty promises.

Rob Howard


Burnout and stress are at an all-time high for many workers — including those relatively well-off office employees in tech and “knowledge work.” So it’s no surprise that companies have introduced innovative benefits to signal that they take employee wellness seriously.

Many of those changes have been positive — more flexible hours and more opportunities to work from home are a big plus. But “unlimited paid time off,” now offered by industry leaders like Netflix and Twitter as well as countless smaller firms, is a ridiculous scam.

Over the next few minutes, I’ll dissect why this new benefit is far more beneficial for employers than workers, as well as what you can do as a business owner to offer your employees a paid-time-off policy that actually helps them stay healthy, happy and productive.

Ask yourself: Do I trust my employer enough to believe that they’ll grant my PTO requests?

Do I know what “reasonable” means to them — and can I be sure they won’t change their mind during “crunch” time?

Is it fair for employers to offer “phantom” benefits that have no monetary value if unused?

Let’s start with a quick “common sense” check. If you have unlimited paid time off, and you decide to take 9 months off, what will happen? You’ll get flack from your manager and your co-workers. You’ll be framed as “not a team player.” And you’ll eventually, one way or another, be shown the door. In other words, the idea that PTO is “unlimited” relies on a common set of assumptions about what “too much” PTO looks like — is four weeks a year OK? What about 12 weeks? What if we’re launching a big new feature soon — is it OK for me to take a break, or does my “unlimited” PTO have to wait?

When companies say “unlimited,” they really mean that you have to check with your manager and make sure he or she shares your assumptions about what amount of vacation is