Why do I hate Unlimited PTO?

Why do I hate Unlimited PTO?

As I am a guy, who sits in Europe and I am probably not up to date with the most modern Silicon Valley’s fashion trends. I guess Unlimited PTOs started becoming popular among SVs start-ups a few years ago. In the European IT market, it is just taking very early steps to become more popular.


What’s is my thought on that? Write more articles to kill it before it gets spread.

Number of vacation days

In Poland, when you work on a full-time job agreement you get 20 days paid days off a year during the first years of your career. Then, after you gain certain experience (which is being calculated by a number of formal education years + job experience) it grows up to 26 days a year. I believe there might be similar rules in other countries.

As we work in IT, B2B / Contracts became a commodity. There is no strict law about vacation policy in B2B agreements, so companies are free to choose the vacation policy, that they offer.

Problem with zero paid days off

There are many people, who simply cannot accept the idea of not earning money for a specific amount of time. This vacation policy means - if you do not work then you do not earn. It may “cost” thousands of euros a month.

They do not take time off because they want to keep earning more money. As a result, they end up working 12 months a year with no vacation at all.

Is the behavior of these people bad? Or are these people bad? No. We are all humans. It is the job of the company leaders to create healthy work conditions, boundaries, and constraints.

Of course, not each employee works this way and there are many people, who can balance the amount of work and amount of vacation. They simply calculate the annual salary they get and they include the no-money-making period in the yearly budget.

The amount of vacation

This article is not focused on the amount of vacation that people need to take. Everyone is slightly different and some people will require 60 days off a year and the people will need just to take 3 days off a year for solving some private life issues.

Some people love to work and I strongly respect it. From time to time, I am one of them too.

This article is about communication and safety. This is against companies, bosses, and leaders.

Unlimited PTO is rarely unlimited

What I experienced is that many of my colleagues, who started working for Unlimited PTO companies keep asking me “Hey Rafal! You are a manager so you probably know. How many days off can I take with unlimited policy?”.

Many people are simply afraid or shy when they plan to ask for days off when there is no strict information about the number of days they can take. They feel guilty going off even when they take care of passing all the responsibilities to their colleagues for the vacation period.

Statistically, it seems like many people tend to take a lower number of vacation days a year with Unlimited PTO than with a strict number of paid days off policy.

Unlimited PTO startups are not that fancy

Of course, we may argue that it is the company’s job to create the proper culture of psychological safety for its employees. In fact, most of the companies fail doing that. My call on that topic is to stop using the idea of Unlimited PTO for becoming a hot startup. I simply consider it as a good example of manipulative insincerity from Radical Candor’s dictionary.

Work never ends

No matter if it is a corporate environment or early-stage dynamic startup, there is always some stuff to do. Sitting in front of a computer doing nothing just to show your presence to the boss. Or doing a lot, to earn the next millions EUR.

Work never ends. The meaning of “work” is just slightly different from company to company.

How to easily fix a vacation policy?

It is much better to clearly communicate the exact number of paid days off in a job offer. No matter if it is zero, 20, 26, or 40. Just write a number. This is how you can maximize the likelihood of building a psychologically safe work environment.

People will use or lose the days off. Both scenarios are better than giving them fake unlimited possibilities.

Talk about vacation time with your boss

I encourage employees working for Unlimited PTO companies to keep asking about the vacation policy and to take time off.

Ask questions about a number of days, about company culture, about unlimited time, about working 3 hours a day, working 4 days a week. Say that you want to use this time for growth, traveling, learning new programming languages, reading about management techniques, meeting new cultures, going to international meetups, taking care of your mental health, and so on. How many days of leave a year does your manager take?

Maybe it will make them think about changing it to at least “Unlimited PTO, and we encourage our employees to take at least 20 days off a year” kind of message.

Ask your boss about it. Most of the bosses and managers will fail to answer your questions. Especially if you go with 5xWhy.