Corporate Wellness

Fighting Employee Burnout with Unlimited Time Off

16 Apr 2019
Last updated on 1 Jun 2023

Work hard. Play hard. This philosophy has gotten lost in today’s competitive corporate world. Considering over half of all employed adults don’t use their annual vacation or personal time, it seems that the “play hard” part of this credo has gotten left behind. To remedy this, consider offering employee unlimited paid time off (PTO).

When appropriately implemented, unlimited PTO isn’t about spoiling employees with open permission to take off any time, for any reason. It’s about instilling personal accountability and encouraging the flexibility to help them manage work-life balance, pursue new experiences, and, most of all, to recharge.

If you haven’t already, now’s the time to consider implementing an unlimited PTO policy. It may sound crazy, but like most genius ideas, it only seems crazy until you try it. If you’re not convinced, here are three areas to consider when making the transition to unlimited PTO.

What to Expect

Studies show that unlimited PTO increases employee productivity, engagement, and retention. The SHRM report, Vacation’s Impact on the Workplace, concludes that humans have limited attention spans. Once their attention runs out, productivity goes with it, and burnout begins. When they’re given time off to relax, performance improves.

The challenge is knowing when an employee needs to take a break. Unlimited PTO gives them the power to decide when and how long they’ll need to get back to their full potential.

Most employees should be eligible for unlimited vacation benefits. Whether they’re an executive or a junior, everyone still needs time off to recharge. Potential exceptions include new hires or employees with low-performance ratings. Both may be better suited for traditional PTO for a period of 90-360 days to evaluate or reevaluate, their performance. Unlimited vacation is an earned privilege—and not to be taken for granted.

Managing Workflow

Unlimited PTO does allow for weeks-long vacations. Most employees will never overreach by going beyond a reasonable amount of time off. Finding proper coverage may seem like a daunting task, but planning ensures that their work is prioritized and properly handed off. Problems will occur, especially in the beginning, so it’s best to be over-prepared.

Over-preparation starts with a solid coverage plan, including adequate prep time and project handoff coverage. Employees should plan ahead and coordinate with their manager and team. Depending on size, most departments can allow for one or two members to be absent at any given time, but any more absences can become problematic.

Make sure your coverage plan is thorough. Welcoming a newly relaxed employee back from vacation with a stack of assignments that have piled up will quickly diminish the trip’s intended benefits.

On the HR end, eliminating vacation accrual doesn’t mean removing vacation time-keeping. Even with unlimited PTO, most employees will still hesitate to take time off. Many companies are combating this by instituting a vacation minimum. By tracking time off, managers can prevent employees from skipping out. Software like Replicon allows managers to approve vacation time and keep tabs on who’s where at any given time, minimizing conflicts.

Tracking Results

Unlimited PTO gives employees the power to pick when, and for how long, they can take time off. While unlimited vacation time may seem like the perfect antidote to employee burnout, some employees still won’t disconnect. Some companies have taken steps to disconnect for them. Digital marketing firm Elite SEM, a company of just under 200 people, changes employee passwords when they’re away so they cannot log into the company system or send and receive email.Less than 1% of companies offer unlimited vacation time. Starting now can give your company a new perk to attract talent, boost productivity, and retain current employees. With an unlimited vacation or PTO policy, employees get to be responsible for their schedules and can assess their workloads accordingly. Read our latest whitepaper to learn more about unlimited paid time off and other flex benefits here.


Wellhub Editorial Team

The Wellhub Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.