Learning & Development

Unlimited Paid Time Off Is Not Always Everything It’s Cracked Up to Be

Unlimited paid time off (UPTO) is one of those semi-mythical job perks that seem simply idyllic to many. No more trying to budget available days off across multiple competing leisure priorities; one can simply do them all and take as much time as one needs, right?

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UPTO—Too Good to Be True? Some Say Yes

Not exactly. UPTO policies are often reserved for those toward the top of the organizational hierarchy, and the responsibilities of workers in those roles often prevent them from taking a lot of time off work. Additionally, even when workloads might allow for more vacation, peer pressure and concerns over perceptions of commitment can cause workers with UPTO to avoid taking the time off they might like to.

“Some companies have reaped the benefits of UPTO,” writes Bryan Lufkin in an article for BBC Worklife. “Many workers at manufacturing giant General Electric have responded positively to the perk. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings detailed in his 2020 book that while nailing down UPTO took years, he eventually found that ‘the freedom signals to employees that we trust them to do the right thing, which in turn encourages them to behave responsibly.’”

Unexpected Obstacles to Overcome

At the same time, Lufkin notes that many companies have run into unexpected obstacles with their UPTO plans. “Workers often end up taking less time off than they did with a fixed policy,” he says. “A 2018 survey showed workers with UPTO took fewer holidays than those with a fixed allocation; according to another poll, one-third of US workers with UPTO always work on holiday.”

As a result, some employers might be tempted to throw the baby out with the bathwater and conclude that UPTO policies simply don’t work. However, that’s an oversimplification and one that puts a company at risk of losing out on the many benefits of such policies. Instead, in addition to UPTO policies, employers need to work to develop a culture in which staff are comfortable taking the time they need to recharge their batteries and avoid burnout.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.