Why You Shouldn’t Like Unlimited PTO

by | Uncategorized

Unlimited is a fantastic word.

But unlimited PTO – all the personal time off from work that you want and need – sounds magical but can be horrible.

It can also be a trap, particularly for Lead Dads, Working Moms and Caregivers. The unlimited part only works if it’s modeled by leaders. If they publicly take time off, talk about what they did and why they did it, then it could be fantastic. In reality, many leaders – with decades of experience and ingrained bias – are not doing that, particularly senior men at companies.

Not dissimilar to parental leave, unlimited PTO becomes a guilt trap when leaders model the opposite: after all, 43 percent of workers, survey by Calendar Labs and reported in FORTUNE WELL, called unlimited PTO a scam.

Even when PTO is mandated, the survey found that only 38 percent of workers in the United States took their full allotment.

We know it. At The Company of Dads we proposed something called Care Days last year and got some push back that it could just be folded into PTO.

Not exactly. Care Days are a designated allotment of days that any employee can take for a care emergency. They’re not sick days, personal days, bereavement days and certainly not vacation days or PTO.

They’re for care – a sick child comes to most people’s minds, but they’re not limited to that. Care Days could be for a sick spouse or an aging parent. They could be for a friend – or a pet. They’re up to you.

They let you be honest with your coworkers. They let you focus on care. They eliminate the need to pretend to work when an emergency has come up and you really can’t focus. If you didn’t take a Care Day you would be distracted and do a poor job at work.

Companies can use Care Days to put a concrete policy behind talk about caring. But just as important – if not more so – for companies, Care Days can become a retention tool. The highest cost for many companies is hiring when a top employee leaves and he or she needs to be replaced. It’s a financial cost; it’s also a cost in terms of a lost institutional knowledge, cultural fit, and earned trust.

One clarification: I’m not calling for unlimited Care Days any more than I’d support unlimited PTO. Give people 5 Care Days or 10 Care Days but don’t make it unlimited.


Because here the risk is that people do take unlimited Care Days and no one talks to them about it. If that allotment gets used up, it’s time for managers to manage, to have a conversation, to figure out how the company can help the employee but also to discuss what the employee needs to do to get his or her work done for the company. It’s not a one-way street.

Post pandemic, the personal and the professional are paired. And leaders who ignore that risk losing their future leaders. In the short term, they risk costing their companies millions to replace the top leaders that go elsewhere.

Recent Dad Hacks