Mandatory PTO

Recently Ellen Pao tweeted:

pto tweetMy reply was off the cuff, but given the likes it’s worth exploring a bit more.

Many companies use unlimited PTO as a benefits selling point. At first it sounds great. “Unlimited PTO?! Awesome! I can finally take that 2 week vacation in order to (fill in the blank).” The sad reality is that in many companies the benefit isn’t used at all. In most company cultures it’s hard to ask for time off. For those who have a capped PTO policy (use it or lose it), at least the conversation starter of “hey I’m going to lose some PTO unless I take it” is helpful in getting employees to take time off.

Unlimited PTO is not formally tracked and therefore managers aren’t sure how much time off an employee has taken. Those who do exercise more than a perceived “normal” amount of PTO could experience resentment from others or even be seen as less dedicated employees. If a person does take prolonged PTO, there could even be sense of uncertainty regarding their job security. This incentives employees to actually take less PTO.

By contrast, mandatory PTO solves all of the above issues and even adds more benefits. Not only does it encourage employees to take a break from the grind (the entire point of having PTO), it implicitly forces flexibility in work assignments and having a backup for all crucial tasks. This minimizes risk of a single point of failure and the chance of a rogue employee doing nefarious things. It also limits the company’s financial liability as employees use their PTO instead of sitting on it for years to be cashed out.

If companies really want a benefits selling point about how much they care for their employees, they should adopt a mandatory PTO policy of 2 weeks each year and an additional 2-4 weeks that can be accrued and rolled over. Managers should be held responsible to make sure all of their employees take their PTO.

By aligning the behavior incentives with the actual policy, both employees and companies would benefit.