Unlimited Leaves: It's Not What You Think It Is

Unlimited Leaves: It's Not What You Think It Is

How Does a Genuine Unlimited Paid Time-Off (PTO) Policy Look Like, and Why It Might Not Be For You

I posted this on Facebook and I was shocked by a few of the comments it received.

Man, I didn't expect that a lot of people are still unaware that unlimited leaves exist, and they do work for a lot of organizations! πŸ˜‚ Guys, just because you haven't encountered something, doesn't mean it's impossible. We all need to come out of our bubbles, and expand our horizons sometimes.


Unlimited leave policies are more complex than they appear, requiring a strong company culture of trust, maturity, and mutual respect to function effectively. While they offer flexibility and were particularly beneficial during emergencies like severe illness, they don't necessarily mean people take more time off; in fact, studies show the opposite. Success with such policies depends heavily on the alignment of company values and the responsibility of the employees.

Unlimited PTO For All

Oh, it's the dream, isn't it? You get to travel the world, while getting paid for it! But sorry to pour cold water on all of you, because it's not that simple.

Although, yes, we've had team members go on leaves for weeks and months on end, but there are a number of reasons they were able to do that. Like, personally, I rarely take a leave of absence for more than a week, but the option is there whenever I need it.

For instance, our unlimited leave policy came in handy when I went down with severe Covid during the height of the pandemic. I was out almost two months, and worked at a limited capacity a few weeks after, but I still got my salary in full--no questions asked--even though the company was experiencing troubles, like most of the businesses were, at the time. And for that, I'm forever grateful.

Making Unlimited Leaves Work

I'm going to say this: not every employer or employee is made for unlimited leaves. Maybe you think you want it, but it might turn out that it's the opposite: that you totally don't need it. There's a lot of factors that need to be present for unlimited PTO to be effective, and here's a few off the top of my head:

  1. There has to be a culture of trust in the company.

  2. Employers and managers should treat their employees as ADULTS and the humans that they are, not mere resources that need to be maximized.

  3. Employees should have a strong sense of responsibility and accountability. In short, they're MATURE ADULTS.

  4. People are generous with sharing their knowledge and wisdom.

  5. People have each other's back. There's a real sense of community and belongingness. Politics is kept at a minimum.

  6. Everyone believes in the company's mission and there's a strong alignment in values.

  7. People are measured by the impact and value they produce, not by the hours or days they clock in.

  8. The company doesn't "reward" their best people with... more work.

  9. In practice, it's not the policy written on paper but the concrete actions of ownership and leadership that dictate the behavior of the rest of the company. When leaders themselves responsibly avail of timely and well-deserved leaves, so do the majority of the employees.

And so much more. I'm not an expert on the topic, but these are some of my observations in my current company and in conversations I've had with friends from other organizations. That's why I encourage everyone to read up on studies about it, because it's not what you think it is. AN UNLIMITED LEAVES POLICY DOESN'T MEAN PEOPLE ARE ABLE TO GO ON LEAVE FOREVER WITHOUT ANY CONSEQUENCES (see #3 above). Some studies have even found people actually take less leaves in unlimited leave environments than in fixed leave environments. I know, it's counterintuitive. There have been a couple of times I've had to implore a person to go on leave to rest! πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚

Adopt at Your Own Risk

That said, I won't recommend companies to adopt an unlimited leave policy if the circumstances and the culture don't allow for it.

Unlimited leave nga, pero ano namang sense kung pag may nagfile ng leave, hinuhusgahan naman? Sasabihan pa ng SANA OIL. [Yeah, you may have an unlimited leave policy, but what's the sense if whenever someone files for leave, they are subject to judgement and scorn.] Or worse, leaves are rarely approved, if at all. No, no, no, wag na lang. Set a fixed number of leaves na lang para mabawasan yung katoxican kahit papaano. πŸ˜‚ [No thanks. Set a fixed number of leaves in hopes of limiting the toxicity instead.] (For context, leaves don't need to be approved in our company as long as there's ample notice time, except for very rare circumstances. We simply add our leaves on the company calendar for everyone to see, and inform our teams and managers.)

These policies aren't magic. And policies don't shape culture. If the culture is bad and dysfunctional, blindly implementing policies like unlimited time off won't suddenly fix it. It might even make things worse, so much worse.

With Great Leave Power Comes Great Leave Responsibility

On the flipside, if you plan to go on an extended leave, it’s your responsibility to make sure the house doesn’t go down while you're gone. Or that other people's work don't get blocked because they're dependent on you getting your end done. People might think this is an easy thing to do, but you need to be someone who has #3 (again mentioned above) for this to work. Only few people have this trait, believe it or not.

For example, what I try to do is to empower and enable people around me. Di ako madamot sa kaalaman. [I'm not selfish with what I know.] The faster juniors develop into fully capable engineers, the more it can enable me to take longer worry-free leaves. Ayoko kasing kapag nasa bakasyon ako, tapos tinatawagan ako kasi di makapagdesisyon o makadiskarte yung team ko, lalo na sa maliliit na bagay. 🀣 [I don't like it when I'm on a vacation, people are trying to contact me because teammates can't decide or take action, even for the smallest of things.] My team needs to be able to function without me, so I strive to become less and less important. This is contrary to other leadership philosophies, in which leaders are afraid of becoming irrelevant, which again will depend on the culture of the company.

I'm still learning of course, especially since I'm a reluctant "manager", but I digress.

No Such Thing as a Perfect Company, Just Perfectly Aligned Values

I'm not saying my current employer is perfect. It is definitely not. But it's perfect FOR ME, for my needs and for my goals. Not everyone will thrive in our working culture. We've had to let people go because they couldn't cope with how we worked and operated. And that's totally fine. We all should strive to find the culture that suits us. 😁 I got lucky that I found mine. At the same time, I'm realistic too. Things change, circumstances change, businesses change. At the time being though, I'm happy where I'm at.

I do encourage organizations to at least consider "radical policies" like unlimited PTOs, salary transparency, and 4-day workweek. Keep an open mind, research extensively, align your culture and values, then experiment and see what'll work for you and your employees. You might be surprised of what you find out.

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P.S. For anyone who's curious, I'm currently a tech lead at Prosple. πŸš€