Until January 2015 our PTO policy was relatively standard, but we had a problem in that people weren’t taking any time off from work. We originally had 10 PTO days plus 10 paid holidays – not too different from what we see with many of our clients.
We are a small, niche recruiting firm, and our recruiters likely weren’t using their PTO out of fear of losing control at work. On one hand, it felt nice to have committed employees who cared about our pursuits, but I knew we would never reach our goals of long-term employee tenure with a bunch of burned-out team members. My idea for combating employee burnout was simply to encourage better work-life balance by pushing people to use their PTO.
Each year we have an annual kickoff at a beach house in January. It was then that I delivered my plan with 100% transparency. Tracking PTO was a pain in the rear, the PTO payroll report cost me an extra $15 per month, and nobody was even taking advantage of our program. We would be adopting a new PTO policy that would encourage our team members to take time away from work and recharge.
I encountered a balanced mix of excitement and skepticism. Some team members were optimistic about new freedom, while others were wondering if there was a catch. There wasn’t a catch, but an unlimited PTO policy had the possibility of becoming a complete disaster. We set up some smart, fair parameters:
1) The PTO must be requested ahead of time and put in a shared google calendar (this is for collaboration, and not for tracking)
2) Team members must collaborate with peers to have his/her work covered while away
3) With some room for exception, the team member must be in good standing with the company
4) The PTO must not be uniquely disruptive to the team
5) And last, as a trade-off, No PTO in January. Ever. January is a black-out month where we recover from our devastatingly slow December
If these conditions were met, all PTO would be approved.
It took until February to catch on, but we’ve seen an increase in work-life balance and no discernible drops in production. Our workplace parents have unapologetically spent more time with their kids for field trips and school events. We’ve had one team member book a life-changing trip to Europe, and we’ve had three different team members book week-long trips to the great outdoors. I’ve also found that by not requiring explanations for PTO, we seem to get the purest form of truth; People simply need a break to get away.
It hasn’t all been perfect. We at one point had to draw some sharp lines when a team member announced he was leaving early for the day. We let him leave but addressed the issue at our next Monday meeting. We clarified that two days’ notice is really the minimum for what we consider “advanced notice,” and we also talked about the slippery slope of just leaving whenever we want. It hasn’t happened since.
I haven’t yet felt that anyone has abused the program. I do worry that this policy may not work as we grow to 30, or 40+ employees, and it’s more than likely that one day a future employee may try to exploit our policy. Thus far, though, it’s been great for us. Someday, my peers in the community might try to entice my employees to leave with the promise of more money or more exciting challenges, but I’m not sure they can offer a better environment where honesty is both encouraged and accepted, and work-life balance is valued.