I Was a Skeptic, Now I am Convinced Unlimited PTO is Good Business
Unlimited paid time off proves you mean it when you tell your team that you trust them.
I had to warm up to the idea of unlimited paid time off (PTO). It’s how my brain is wired. I’m highly analytical -- I wouldn’t be obsessed with subjects like business credit otherwise -- and that part of my mind wants to know what to count on and when. It wants to be able to quantify returns and benefits.
As I watched companies like Netflix and LinkedIn implement the policy successfully, I wondered what it might do for my own company culture. I felt like I had the kind of employees who might flourish under it, and I began to see it as a matter of shifting from a quantitative world to a qualitative one.
I eventually made the shift, and I don’t regret it. Here are three reasons why:
1. It’s a powerful symbol.
At Nav, we make it a point to hire people who don’t require babysitting. We want to hire you, turn you loose and trust you to get the job done. We’re big fans of the kind of employees who can manage themselves and behave as owners in all areas of their job -- including how they manage their vacation and sick days.
It’s even more important with us since we’re a service for small business owners who are self-starting go-getters by nature. We have to hire people who reflect and honor that spirit.
Even if it’s just symbolic, unlimited paid time off (PTO) reinforces the fact that we hired you because you seem like the type of person who can handle a little freedom. If I say that I trust you, and then follow up that supposedly heartfelt declaration by shackling you to your desk, you can be certain of two things:
- I don’t trust you.
- You shouldn’t trust me, either.
If you trust someone, show them you trust them with your actions. Unlimited PTO is symbolic of the kind of company we are and the kind of people we hire, but it’s also concrete evidence that we’re ready to put our money where our mouth is.
2. The golden rule still rules.
I ask the world of my employees. I ask them to care about our vision and mission the same way that I do. I put all my heart, mind and strength into what we’re trying to accomplish, and I expect no less of them.
As a company owner, I have the luxury of deciding how much time I can take off -- why shouldn’t my fellow owners enjoy the same privilege? Vacations help me reset and give something back to my family for the sacrifices they’ve made throughout my career. The vacation recharges my creativity and provides a different paradigm in which to relax and reflect.
I want -- I need -- my employees to play as hard as they work. They wouldn’t be at their best otherwise, just as I wouldn’t be at my best if I didn’t trade the office for the beach once in awhile.
There are less sunny considerations as well. In 2010, for example, my twins were born prematurely, and I spent a lot of hours in the hospital as they recovered. My business partner had a similar experience when he almost lost a son.
Neither of us could have or would have tolerated someone from work breathing over our shoulders. If an employee suffers a similar crisis, I want them to know for a certainty that I won’t be breathing over their neck.
3. Strength and flexibility go hand-in-hand.
Let’s say that an employee (we’ll call her Jane) has a child entering college this year. She wants to accompany her to her new school, help her move into her dorm and say goodbye face-to-face, instead of just waving from the driveway.
Think of Jane’s time off as a variable. She usually takes two weeks off a year -- this year she took three. It cost the company an extra week. But what did Jane gain in her life? A memory, a bonding, a rite of passage with a beloved child, never to be repeated.
I’m convinced that, in Jane’s case, unlimited PTO will translate itself back into more gratitude for the job and an even stronger, deeper commitment to the company.
Unlimited PTO only works if you’ve hired smart, hardworking people who’ve bought into the vision, mission and values of your company. We’ve also made a two-week yearly vacation mandatory, for those folks who prefer a little guidance when it comes to taking time off, as well as for the workaholics among us.
Rigid schedules don’t take real life into account.
Levi King is CEO and co-founder of Nav.