Unlimited vacation policy: Pros, cons, and how to make it work for your company
Interviews / Opinions

Unlimited vacation policy: Pros, cons, and how to make it work for your company

, Former Content Marketing Manager

“Hey, welcome back! How was your vacation?”
“Great! I only wish I could have stayed a few days longer…”

Does this wistful exchange sound familiar?

Employees value their time off and often wish for more time to recharge. It’s so common that many companies now offer unlimited vacation policies as an employee benefit.

At first glance, an unlimited vacation policy might seem like an ideal solution for keeping your teams happy. But is unlimited PTO an effective solution? Or will it hinder productivity as employees take advantage of the policy, choosing to “play hard and hardly work”?

The truth is, this benefit has advantages that make it appealing. But it also has potential downsides that might not be immediately clear. The key to success is to understand unlimited vacation pros and cons and adjust your strategy to fit.

How does unlimited vacation work?

With an unlimited PTO policy, there’s no set number of days employees can take off with pay. Instead, they request days off as needed throughout the year and their manager approves the time at their discretion. This allows the employee as much flexibility as possible while ensuring the team stays productive.

Sounds like a no-brainer, right?

Let’s dig a little deeper into the pros and cons of this approach.

The promises of unlimited PTO

More flexible PTO definitely has upsides for employees and employers. Here are a few of the benefits of unlimited vacation:

A better work-life balance

Unlimited vacation policies allow employees to step away when personal or family needs arise. In theory, this freedom will help people be more focused and productive while they’re on the job. And that happier, healthier employees will be stronger contributors.

Companies like Netflix have been pioneers in this approach, trusting their employees to manage their time responsibly.

Healthier employees are happier employees (more productive, too).
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Higher employee morale

Offering limitless time off can be a powerful morale booster. It can lead to increased job satisfaction.

Take a cue from companies like HubSpot, where the emphasis is on the importance of individual health and well-being.

The company tells employees that its goal with the policy is “To help you be the best ‘you’ that you can be, both inside and outside of work.”

A stronger draw for top talent

In the competitive talent landscape, perks matter. Unlimited vacation policies are attractive bait for top-tier talent seeking progressive workplaces.

Tech giant Dropbox not only offers unlimited vacation. It also encourages employees to take at least two weeks off each year. This entices potential hires and keeps them engaged once on board. In fact, employees rank the vacation policy as the fourth most important benefit the company offers after healthcare. And 18% of those polled say it’s the most important benefit.

The potential pitfalls of unlimited PTO

While the allure of unlimited vacation policies is undeniable, the above benefits aren’t the whole picture. Companies with such policies won’t necessarily see employees take more time off.

HR platform Namely has run unlimited vacation policy research. Its studies initially found that employees with unlimited PTO tended to take, on average, even fewer days off than those with traditional policies. More recent polls found that in unlimited PTO companies, employees now averaged 12.09 days per year. That’s compared to 11.36 days for those with limits.

While no longer lagging behind, employees with endless vacation still aren’t taking significantly more time off than their limited counterparts.

Here are a few reasons this may be happening.


One of the primary issues with unlimited PTO lies in its ambiguity. Without a set number of days, employees may find it challenging to gauge how much time off is okay. This ambiguity can lead to employees not taking the time they need.

Peer pressure

Paradoxically, the absence of a defined limit can create a culture of guilt and peer pressure. Employees may feel compelled to match or exceed their colleagues’ dedication, resulting in a reluctance to take time off. This phenomenon, known as “presenteeism,” can lead to burnout.

An unclear manager approval process can also create uncertainty and anxiety for employees.

Implementation challenges

The transition to an unlimited PTO policy isn’t always seamless. Some companies struggle with implementation. They grapple with issues such as fair distribution, tracking, and ensuring that employees feel comfortable taking the time they need.

Without a structured PTO system, it can be challenging to track vacation time and plan project timelines. This can lead to scheduling conflicts, overwork, and potential burnout.

Unlimited Vacation Policy: Pros, Cons, and How to Make It Work for Your Company

Fear of missing out (FOMO)

The absence of clear guidelines and accrual limits can foster a culture of FOMO. Employees may feel pressure to limit their vacation time for fear of falling behind their colleagues or jeopardizing their career prospects. This can lead to increased stress, burnout, and even resentment among employees.

The unlimited vacation policy challenges underscore how complex the issue is. While the intent is to empower employees and create a healthier workplace, the reality is less straightforward. But that doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from a flexible time-off policy.

5 tips for successful unlimited vacation policies

The goals of taking time off are to recharge, focus on personal matters, get inspired, have fun, and so on.

These goals aren’t realized when people worry about falling behind on work or about facing repercussions for taking time off. Or if you have to nudge them toward the end of the year because they still haven’t used most of their PTO.

To support a healthy workplace, you may need to rethink your strategy. Prioritize employee well-being by being intentional about your unlimited PTO approach.

Here are five unlimited vacation policy best practices to help you do just that.

1. Establish clear guidelines and expectations

Set expectations by creating specific policies around how to use unlimited PTO. Define the purpose of the policy (promoting work-life balance and increasing employee satisfaction).

Then, outline the process for requesting and approving PTO. Include instructions for timelines, managerial involvement, and any necessary documentation. This will ensure employees don’t take advantage of the policy and that managers know if their teams are taking enough time off.

Finally, ensure your guidelines address issues such as vacation scheduling and workload management. Give direction on scheduling vacations without disrupting team workflows and ensuring adequate coverage during absences.

2. Cultivate a culture of approval, not just permission

Encourage executives and managers to actively promote the use of unlimited PTO. When leaders advocate for time off, it shows their teams that taking vacation is not only permitted but encouraged.

  • Hold regular team meetings where leaders discuss the importance of taking time off.
  • Encourage leaders to share their own experiences of rejuvenation during vacations.
  • Consider setting a PTO minimum that mandates employees take at least three weeks off every year.

In short, find ways to emphasize that taking a break is a positive contribution to personal and professional growth.

3. Lead by example

Leadership sets the tone for any organizational culture. Executives and managers should show support for a healthy workplace by taking advantage of the unlimited vacation policy themselves.

When employees see their leaders prioritizing downtime, it sends a powerful message. Here are a few ways you can normalize the concept of unplugging and recharging by example:

  • Encourage executives to take regular vacations and publicly share their experiences.
  • Recognize and celebrate employees who take advantage of PTO and return to work refreshed and energized.
  • Provide resources and support for employees planning vacations. These might include travel recommendations, assistance with travel arrangements, and tips for maximizing vacation time.

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4. Monitor PTO usage and address concerns

Track PTO usage patterns across the organization. Identify any trends or potential concerns, such as underutilization or uneven distribution of time off.

If certain teams or individuals are not using their PTO, engage them in discussions. Seek to understand their concerns and address any underlying issues.

For instance, say you find employees are hesitant to take time off due to workload concerns. You might work with managers to address these issues and ensure they distribute work evenly.

5. Promote balance

Promote a company culture that encourages employees to prioritize their well-being. Here are a few steps you can take to promote a healthy balance:

  • Set realistic expectations. Avoid setting unrealistic expectations or imposing tight deadlines that contribute to a culture of overwork and stress.
  • Emphasize the importance of disconnecting from work. Encourage employees to set boundaries between work and personal life. For instance, by avoiding checking work emails or messages outside of work hours.
  • Provide resources for stress management and mental health support. Teach people the essentials of well-being. This might mean implementing mindfulness training, meditation apps, or mental health counseling services.

Focus your unlimited vacation policy on employee success

Transforming an unlimited PTO policy into a tool for increased employee satisfaction and productivity requires active engagement from leadership. It means listening to employees and their needs.

Simply adding a benefit that sounds good on paper (i.e., unlimited vacation) won’t help retain employees in the long run. But boosting their well-being will.

By fostering a culture that not only permits but encourages time off, you can contribute to a happier, healthier, and more productive workforce.

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Christina Pavlou - Former Content Marketing Manager

Christina, ex-Content Marketing Manager at Epignosis, focuses on L&D, diversity, and enhancing workplace well-being. Learn how to improve your work environment. More by Christina!

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