While it may not be common, unlimited paid time off (PTO) has generated a lot of buzz among company leaders. Many observers are skeptical about the benefits of such a generous policy, but employers who offer unlimited vacation it say it really works. In addition to improving productivity and employee morale, it helps companies attract and retain top talent.
This kind of flexibility can be especially important to women. For mothers who are trying to decide whether or not to return to work after having kids, it makes all the difference if they know their employer is particularly supportive of women during challenging childbearing years.
Full disclosure: Fairygodboss is one of the companies that allows its employees to take unlimited PTO. So, no — we’re not just talking the talk. We’ve also checked in with GE, Grubhub, Grant Thornton, and Netflix — all of which have the same policy — to get a sense of why these companies decided that unlimited PTO makes good business sense.
Grubhub, which has had an unlimited PTO policy since 2015, sees value in offering market-leading benefits. “Competitive benefits -- including unlimited PTO -- are integral for companies to attract top talent and invest in their people,” says Katie Norris, a Senior Associate in Corporate Communications at the company.
Susan Peters, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at GE, says she wanted to make sure the company’s HR policies and practices were helping to “create a simpler and faster GE.” And after rolling out its “Permissive Approach to Paid Time Off” to US senior level employees in 2015, GE was so pleased with the program that they extended it to all US salaried employees in 2016, eliminating caps on vacation, personal or sick time.
GE recruiters and hiring managers explain that they love talking about the company’s permissive approach to paid time off because it gives them a wonderful story to tell potential talent.
Rob Thorp, GE Principal Talent Acquisition Partner (based in Chicago, IL), says, “I remember a candidate telling me, ‘that’s great, I appreciate that flexibility. With my family growing this is one of the top things I’m looking for in a new position.’”
Kristen Fitzsimmons, a Senior Talent Acquisition Partner for GE Aviation, also describes how much Unlimited PTO has helped her in recruiting: “In the past it was challenging recruiting senior engineers into roles at GE when we would traditionally offer two or three weeks of vacation. It was a tough ‘sell’ when candidates had accrued 5 or more weeks of vacation with their current employers. Permissive Time Off has been a game changer in how we can compete for experienced talent!”
Grant Thornton’s Flexible Time Off policy went into effect November 1, 2015, as part of the company’s “larger effort to put our people first,” says Lou Ann Hutchison, Grant Thornton’s Managing Director of People & Culture Operations & Analytics. She adds that it’s been a popular benefit that appeals to employees and candidates alike. “Our Flexible Time Off policy has been very well received on campus and with experienced candidates. They appreciate how this policy, and others, bring our culture to life.”
Hutchison advises all companies to consider this kind of policy. “The employee value it can create by empowering individuals to feel ownership over their personal and professional lives is extremely high, contributing to higher levels of retention and candidate attraction,” she says.
Neftlix has a similar outlook. The company hasn’t had a vacation policy since 2004 (nor does it track employees’ working hours). “Our culture of freedom and responsibility is centered on treating our employees as responsible adults,” a Netflix spokesperson explains.
Just as they don’t have a 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. workday policy, Netflix decided they don’t need a vacation policy; instead, they focus simply on how much work people get done. In their culture manifesto, they joke, “There is also no clothing policy at Netflix, but no one comes to work naked. Lesson: you don’t need policies for everything.”
GE leaders have confirmed that the company’s progressive approach to day-to-day schedules — which is more typically seen in lean tech startups than multinational manufacturers — has been met with rave reviews. They also say that permissive time off isn’t just paying dividends for parents or caregivers; the benefits are felt throughout their entire team.
Roshni Bhagalia, an Electrical Engineer at the company, credits GE’s flexible schedules with an increase in on-the-job energy and engagement: “Setting some time in my schedule for myself helps me return to work rejuvenated, engaged and refreshed.”
Sancha Stephen, an Executive Assistant at GE, explains that she’s glad to have her performance measured by outcomes rather than time spent in an office. She says that “the most important thing is to deliver my work well and on time - it is up to me to manage my time effectively. GE measures the outcomes of my work not the time I put in and to do this well, I need to work efficiently, create lean work processes and avoid time wasters.”
Grubhub employees feel similarly; the company reports that employees are “extremely satisfied” with the flexibility. “Our Grubhub employees take great pride in their work and want to see that they’re making a difference each and every day; unlimited PTO has been a way for our team to feel a greater sense of ownership and connection to Grubhub, allowing them to choose a vacation plan that fits their own needs,” Norris says.
“We have seen more employees take longer (sometimes two weeks or more) vacations where they can truly unplug and enjoy the flexibility of being able plan a large-scale trip without having to sacrifice smaller events throughout the year,” she adds.
Hutchison says the same about Grant Thornton employees. “We understand our employees have personal needs and should be able to own their time, and we encourage them to take the time needed to refresh and recharge. When they have greater autonomy over their career path, and their daily lives, we find they are more engaged, and better able to deliver their best work.”
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