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Why "Unlimited PTO" Is Stupid and Needs to be Replaced with Work/Life Integration...

Remember when "Unlimited PTO" was a fresh thought and really made you think about the relationship employees had with the organizations they worked for?

Yeah, me neither.

I just did a google search titled, "The Long Con of Unlimited PTO".  It didn't give me what I wanted, which was a simple take on a once hot idea.  I'm probably going to write that post in the future, just for the SEO benefit.

Most people have discounted Unlimited PTO at this point, citing the following downsides: Vacation

--Many jobs don't fit unlimited PTO (work that has to be scheduled).

--The worst employees always take advantage of the system.

--Without official rights to a certain amount of days, politics and perception intervene and employees will actually take fewer days.

--The whole premise of "just perform at a high level, then take all the time you want" is clouded by the fact we're HORRIBLE at measuring performance in most organizations. What's good? What's great?  Hmmm - I know it when I see it, which isn't actual guidance you can use.

Taking vacation was always about having work-life balance.  For those of you that routinely rep the need for balance and the need to disconnect, I feel you.  You do you and let me do me.  Here's my big thought:

For most people with families and complex lives, work-life balance isn't the issue. Flexibility is, which means we should probably be talking about something called work-life integration rather than work-life balance. 

There's a lot of confusion between the two terms. As work-life balance has shifted toward work-life integration, organizations have worked to understand the gap between the concepts. UC Berkeley offers a smart description of the difference between the two. They suggest using work-life integration in place of work-life balance because "the latter evokes a binary opposition between work and life."

Futurist Jacob Morgan suggested in a piece for Inc. that this is simply a progression of the way we do business. Morgan wrote that since it's nearly impossible to avoid work and life merging, today's employees should align their goals and experiences to create the life they want.

Amen. Work and life have been merging for awhile, and the higher up the food chain you go, the less you can uncouple the two sides of your life from one another.

That's why Unlimited PTO should be dead and work-life integration should be what we're working on.  A quick summary of what most professional grade employees need could be summarized like this:

"I have enough vacation (suck it, unlimited PTO!). What I really need is to leave work when I want/need to with you (my manager) not backbiting me when I leave at 4pm to get to an activity for one of my kids/<insert what people with no kids want the flexibility to do here>, because you understand I'm going to be on email later tonight or (gasp) while I'm actually doing the personal thing I left at 4pm to do."

That last part is critical. Work-life integration is a two-way street. As an employee, you've got to be willing to do things when you're not at work (which most of you are, anyway). If we could all grow up a bit and say that's how we're living our lives, maybe our organizations would step up and be more supportive of you booking out from work whenever you want/need to.

If you don't want that as an employee - I get it.

I've got something else for you.  It's called Unlimited PTO, and it's FANTASTIC.

Comments

Kenny Deutscher

Hi Kris - excellent piece! I dig the topic of unlimited PTO and love getting into discussions about pros/cons/behaviors associated with it. The move to work/life integration is needed, especially in this age of terrible commutes, cold offices (literally, freezing!!), and life on life's terms. The link in the article did not work. Was it supposed to go here: https://haas.berkeley.edu/human-resources/work-life-integration/

Appreciate your writing. It's helped tremendously as I navigate the early years of an HR career.

Keith Campagna

Great concept and someone that literally is promoting Lifework Integration, I agree! To me, Lifework Integration is the free-flowing exchange of energy and ideas between a person's life and work. Life comes before work because THAT'S HOW IT SHOULD BE. I love the term integration because I spent a career selling HR tech into HR and there is no better place to have this discussion (except at the Executive Board meeting). I just started my Lifework Integration Consulting practice and would love the opportunity to spread my truth. Any podcasts or like-minded people are encouraged to reach out to me at www.keithcampagna.com or on LinkedIn, https://www.linkedin.com/in/keithcampagna/. Cheers!

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