Weighing the pros and cons of unlimited vacation time

Summertime inevitably means warmer weather, a slower pace, and of course, vacation season. For some workers, that means clocking out and taking their time off.

However, budgeting those vacation days can be tricky, which is why one workplace benefit seems like gold: unlimited vacation. It’s a perk more and more young workers are looking for during the pandemic.

In a 2022 Harris poll for Fortune, over 70% of Gen Z and Millennial workers said unlimited PTO was a benefit that was important to them, with some going as far as saying they would even sacrifice a higher salary for unlimited time off.

But what does unlimited PTO actually look like for people who have it?

Let’s start with the positive — it’s a way to address a major issue many workers have struggled with over the past two years: burnout.

"Prior to us having PTO, I did a lot of studies about how much time people were taking off and they were only taking off on average about 7 to 8 days. That’s not very much, and it was very concerning to us," said Nina McQueen, vice president of global talent at LinkedIn. McQueen helped usher in unlimited PTO at the company seven years ago.

"In the old model, you would have to earn your vacation like a little bit at a time in order to be able to take it. With PTO, there are no waiting periods like that," said McQueen. "So the reception from employees is it’s great. And I think if we tried to take it out there, there’d be an uproar."

This all sounds simple enough, right? But there’s another piece of the equation — do people who have unlimited vacation actually use it?

"Admittedly, I don’t take a ton of days off it in the first place," said David Vedder, an employee with unlimited vacation.

Vedder works at a Fortune 500 company that offers unlimited PTO and says when it comes to actually taking advantage of that benefit, it all depends on the attitude of the workplace.

"My manager has actually been pretty, pretty upfront with like saying, ‘Hey, like you have this time, please use it," said Vedder.

"If employees don’t see their managers taking time off or they feel that there’s a frown when they ask for time off, that is going to make them not want to do it," said McQueen.

"It’s not lost on me and I don’t think that it’s lost on anyone else that, you know, I do think about, well, you know, like you say, it’s unlimited," said Vedder, "but, if I really take advantage of the unlimited, like, you know, are there going to be repercussions on the back end?"