In a recent post about unique benefits playing a role in recruiting and retaining top talent, one benefit cited repeatedly is unlimited paid time off (PTO). Unlimited PTO is a magnetic recruitment tool, but once on the job, how does it work, exactly? We polled Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) members about this increasingly popular option and how it impacts their companies. Here's what they shared.

It may be the ultimate nod to the importance of work-life balance. More and more companies are implementing what a few decades ago was unthinkable: unlimited PTO. That's right, gone are the days of deducting the 1.5 hours spent at a doctor's appointment against a lump sum PTO allotmentif you need time off, just take it. That means you could go on a 10-day trip to Tahiti for your 40th birthday (yes, please!), volunteer at pre-school occasionally and still take the kids to Disney for a week on spring break. Groundbreaking concept.

"We think it's important to treat employees like the adults they are. If someone needs a vacation, they take one. If someone is sick, they stay home and rest. Each person knows what they need to be effective and happy at work, so we give them the autonomy to do so," said Kaylie Kipe, Marketing Manager for InfoTrust, founded by EO-Cincinnati member Alex Yastrebenetsky. "It plays into our overall culture of treating each other with respect. If you have an appointment, meeting or even a lunch date mid-day, you're not expected to stay three hours late to make up the time. We're all about work-life balance, and this is one of the favorite perks in that department."

Does an unlimited PTO policy increase productivity?

"Yes, because team members are not sweating the small stuff. One of our core values is 'All-in, All the Time.' We encourage everyone to be all-in and present, wherever you are. Work hard, and then leave it at the office when you take off. We believe restorative time is very important for maintaining high levels of productivity," said Michael Mogill, president and CEO of Crisp Video Group.

"Though we do offer unlimited PTO, we have found that it's flex-time that truly changes productivity levels. Not all of us are wired to be productive from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. every day. So, some people get in early and leave early, while others work on the weekends. It's been a big benefit that people really enjoy," said Brandon Dempsey, co-founder of goBRANDgo!

Sometimes companies with unlimited PTO find that employees don't end up taking much―or any―vacation. What's your experience?

"We try to get out in front of it with frequent reminders that employees canand shoulduse their time off. We set a minimum expectation that each employee will take at least two weeks off per year," Kaylie explained. "We even survey employees about the percentage of their time off when they felt able to completely disconnect from work so that we can ensure they get much-needed recharging time."

"We find that when you hire highly accountable individuals, a natural balance happens that suits each team member. We have people in various stages of lifesuch as recent grads, people planning weddings and new parents. Our experience has taught us that work-life balance has a different definition for every person; therefore, PTO is utilized at different levels," Michael said.

What if employees working in the same department want the same days or week(s) off?

"Just because PTO is unlimited doesn't mean it isn't planned," Brandon explained. "Employees still request the time off with their manager and the team works to ensure no balls are dropped."

"All of our clients have two consultants on their account, so if one person is out, there is a trained backup. We ask that people put their time off on the calendar and communicate with their team accordingly," Kaylie said.

"We had this happen recently: two out of three members of a department were out on vacation. Fortunately, we have a very mindful, accountable and prepared team: every email was drafted in advance to make it easier on that third team member," Michael said. "Our rule is that when taking PTO, you need to make the necessary preparations in advance so that there's no interruption of service for clients or headaches for other team members."

So . . . how much vacation do employees with unlimited PTO generally take?

"Our team members take an average of two to three weeks of PTO, including sick days, family vacations and long weekends," Michael stated.

"About two to three weeks off. At the end of the day, the team knows if you aren't pulling your weight. Last month one employee logged 64 hours one week, then took a day off to enjoy the solar eclipse with her daughter," Brandon said. "Our policies allow people to schedule and conduct their work lives more easily. That flexibility is also quite helpful in attracting and retaining very high talent."

Do you have specific policy guidelines to clear up any ambiguities?

"Not currently, but some employees are discussing a modification so people know how much time they should take off. Our team seems to be scared to let one another down, and we are working internally to figure out a recommendation," Brandon explained.

"Our general guideline is that the policy will remain in place as long as it isn't abused," Michael said. "We still track PTO, so it would be very obvious if someone were taking off every Friday all summer long!"

What's been the biggest surprise with unlimited PTO?

"We've seen a lot more one- or two-day trips than week-long trips. This has been a huge difference in that people tend to extend weekends and holidays rather than leaving for long periods of time. This has probably been one of the best unintended outcomes of our policy," Brandon said.

"Unlimited vacation pushes us to honor our commitment to bringing benefits to life and making sure they're not just lip service. In interviews, we often have to convince recruits that we really do walk the talk, sharing real examples of how our team takes advantage of the policy," explained Chris Taylor, founder and CEO of Square Root. "Just recently, our COOone of the most integral parts of our teamtook a five-month sabbatical to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. It was the perfect example of finding a way to say 'yes,' and we celebrated it to empower other team members to pursue their own passions and challenges."

Published on: Sep 12, 2017