The unspoken rules of unlimited vacation

New job, new salary, new…vacation policy? More and more, companies are using so-called ‘unlimited vacation’ as a recruitment strategy – but what does it really mean? Are you actually winning in this deal?

In all likelihood, yes – you’ll be coming out ahead. Unlimited vacation policies signal a level of trust that few companies are willing to impart. In that sense, you’ve found a good place to build a career.

But if you’re already busy mentally planning your next five trips, you may want to think again. It’s a tricky situation – unlimited vacation was likely one of the deciding factors when you accepted your offer, and you certainly want to make good use of it. On the other hand – you don’t want to be that person. Where do you draw the line?

Here’s everything you need to know to enjoy your vacation – while impressing your boss.

1. When should you ask?

Within minutes of accepting the offer, you’ve already run through various vacation possibilities, carefully noting the family members you’ll have to call to organize your trips. You’ve hit the jackpot, right?

That’s what employers hope you’ll think. And, at some companies, it really is that good. But be careful to set reasonable expectations and keep your manager in the loop.

Aron Ain, CEO of Kronos, emphasizes the importance of transparency. Kronos originally implemented an unlimited vacation policy in order to attract senior-level professionals who were weary of leaving jobs where they had accrued 5-6 weeks over the course of decades.

On telling your manager, Ain advises against keeping secrets. Instead, try to give your manager advance notice of your annual trips. Do you spend a week every August at your family’s cottage? Let your manager know! The more – and the earlier – you can fill in your calendar, the more comfortable and positive your boss will feel about the entire situation.

2. How much is too much?

I know, you want hard and fast answers. Unfortunately, every company has its own set of norms – but a little investigation can go a long way.

Without invading anyone’s privacy, keep an eye on how much vacation your co-workers are taking. Are people chained to their desks, despite the generous policy? Or are people taking their PTO?

If that plan fails, try having an open and frank conversation with your boss. That’s the beauty of unlimited PTO – it invites discussion and necessitates transparency.

Be sure to arrive with a number already in mind which you can present as a point of reference. Need a good rule of thumb? Do some research, determine what your job (and seniority level) would usually merit at a more conventional company, and add 3-5 days depending on your experience and level of productivity. 

If this is your first time discussing PTO, don’t jump in with the trips you’re planning and the days you’ll be missing. Frame your request in the broader context – that you understand the values of the company, feel personally responsible for its success, and are confident that you will be just as productive – or more so, having taken a much-needed breather –  even if you’re out of office for a few extra days. Contextualizing the conversation like this signals an ownership mentality.

As a company, Proven Recruiting has embraced unlimited vacation and watched as our employees flourished under their newfound freedom. All it takes is some smart planning and open conversations. Feel free to contact us to discuss your career options.

3. Don’t undercut yourself.

If companies want to offer unlimited vacation as a way to attract candidates, then they should be prepared to make good on their promises (within reason). This policy can’t be a recruiting tactic with no follow-through.

Stories abound of employers implementing unlimited vacation policies, only to have their workers take the same amount of PTO they did before. This is because:

– Workers are unsure about how much to take, and so err on the side of caution.

– Or, possibly, the company is encouraging a culture of work > life, and are simply using the promise of vacation as a way to lure skilled professionals.

Kickstarter actually cancelled their unlimited vacation policy after workers took LESS time off following its implementation. Such stories are not uncommon; Fastcompany experimented with unlimited vacation for a year, during which time they tracked their employees’ PTO. Most took the same number of days as the year before.

The moral of the story? Don’t leave vacation on the table, like the workers at Kickstarter and Fastcompany. Instead, focus on collaboration, trust, and transparency. It’s a fine balance, but with the right mindset, it’s entirely doable.

Remember: it’s on you to be reasonable, responsible, and ensure coverage. It’s on your company to trust in your ability to do your job.

Does your current employer offer unlimited PTO? We’re working with innovative companies offering a variety of competitive perks – unlimited vacation included. Email us to apply: hello@provenrecruiting.com