Unlimited Paid Time Off Unthinkable? Think Again

By Dottie Chong

Whether you’re trying to land your first job at a PR firm or you’re a seasoned veteran looking to embark on a new journey, finding a company that’s the perfect fit for you can be a daunting task. While competitive pay can be a huge deciding factor, these days, more and more companies are trying to gain a competitive edge with new hires by offering unlimited paid time off (PTO).

As a PR professional, you’re almost guaranteed to represent many different clients, each of which will have a different set of needs and deadlines that come with those needs. So is unlimited time off an actual possibility in a field with ever-changing client demands?

Golin, a global PR firm, is one of the companies leading the way with unlimited PTO. Its CEO and president of the Americas, Gary Rudnick, began offering the perk in April 2016, stating the rationale behind the move was to allow employees “to take more time off so they can be more effective for clients.” He added, “We want to take a stand and say we are going to stop counting because we think that counting is part of the problem.”

Golin is far from alone. Two years earlier, Mammoth HR began receiving questions from their clients on how smaller companies can compete for talent with big players offering better compensation packages, especially those dangling unlimited PTO. CEO Nathan Christiansen and his team drafted what advice they could, but they ultimately decided the best way to the truth was to try the policy out themselves.

He found out a paid time off policy is not only an important benefit for American employees but also one they value greatly. While neither Golin nor Mammoth are promoting unlimited PTO for all, they both agree that when it comes to PTO, businesses must focus on the how and not so much the what.

Vacation time on the company’s dime? Not quite.
A recent survey of 500 U.S. employees revealed some interesting data, where respondents reported getting an average of 11 PTO days per year, with almost 70 percent not utilizing all of their allocated paid time off in the previous year. The average unused PTO was five days, with close to 20 percent of employees forfeiting between two and four weeks of paid vacation time.

When asked if they would prefer more vacation time or a pay raise, 74 percent of employees surveyed voted for the latter. When asked if they’d prefer a lower paying job with a flexible working arrangement or a higher paying job without a flexible working arrangement, more than half opted for money.

Vacation shaming abound
When asked about the reason for not utilizing allocated time off, 1 in 3 respondents admitted to not being able to utilize all of their PTO due to some form of vacation shaming in the workplace. Specific examples included a company culture that did not encourage time off, the practice of making employees feel uncomfortable when asking for time off, and the practice of PTO being flat-out rejected by superiors.

Even when employees did get time off, 6 in 10 employees would check their work emails even on their off days, while 9 in 10 have gone to work under the weather. In 2016, unused vacation days cost the U.S. economy an estimated $236 billion in spending. That’s an average of $604 per employee that could’ve gone into boosting the economy.

The ‘how’ versus the ‘what’
What Christiansen from Mammoth HR found over the course of the year was that employees took approximately the same number of vacation days than the year before, which is about three weeks. He believes the value of the PTO policy lies in how it was done, not so much what it does. By showing his employees he truly cares about their well-being and trusts them, fostered in a PTO-friendly culture that truly encouraged work-life balance, he was rewarded with responsible employees who understood and appreciated the benefit they were given.

Golin’s Rudnick agrees, and he has made it clear the PTO offering is not a financial decision but a business decision intended to support happy, refreshed employees. Flavia Vigio, who was Executive Director for Golin’s Miami and Latin America segment and now a VP at HBO Latin America, noticed how culture and engagement changed companywide.

“Our teams have stronger and more beneficial communications protocols in place to support the work-from-anywhere flexibility offering,” she said. “It has helped us retain talented people who might not have been able to fit their careers into their lives before. And it’s great to work with people who want to be here.”

If you’re thinking of accepting a position with a PR firm that offers unlimited time off, chances are you’re going to take the same amount of time off as you would with a set number of PTO days. The difference is you’d be accepting a position with a firm that cares about its employees and their work-life balance. It’s likely you’ll still be answering emails while you’re on the beach, but a few emails aren’t so daunting when it’s a sunny 75 degrees.

  Prior to becoming a global copywriter for TSheets by QuickBooks, Dottie Chong spent 15 years in marketing communications and content management focused on driving engagement and brand affinity.

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