Career Advice for Job Seekers

Is unlimited PTO the new reality for Gen Zers?

Sean Kelly
September 14, 2021


Unlimited PTO (paid time off) has become more common for employees in recent years, providing an incentive for people to take certain jobs even if the salary might not meet the top of their requirements. Having the opportunity to take as many days off as needed without having to worry about using up a limited number of hours you’ve accrued has made it easier for people to have flexibility in their work schedule and not stress about taking time off when needed. 

For Gen Z, unlimited PTO is likely to become something of a new normal in the job market moving forward, especially post-pandemic when jobs have shifted more and more to a remote configuration and employers are much more flexible about hours (and focusing more on tasks rather than logging 8 hours per day). 

Simply put, an unlimited PTO policy allows for workers to take as many sick, personal, or holiday days off as they want as long as work is completed. In many industries, a policy like this actually makes more sense because of the nature of the work. Of course, some jobs aren’t set up for a benefit like this; for example, if you’re an hourly employee rather than a salaried employee, unlimited PTO doesn’t make sense. But for salaried employees, shifting to a method of productivity where the job is measured by completed tasks rather than hours—and paid time off ultimately becomes obsolete as a tracked and earned system—gives employees a major incentive to accomplish tasks in a timely manner.

Of course, unlimited PTO also offers the opportunity to have a better work-life balance, which many young people, in particular, are really prioritizing these days. Post-pandemic, many have realized that a good work-life balance is crucial to their mental health, so the priority from employers has shifted to helping their employees achieve that in a sensible way. Trends even show this—a recent study (pre-pandemic) from Indeed shows that the policy of unlimited PTO has been trending upward despite still being a new and relatively rare benefit. 

However, some have pointed out that an unlimited PTO perk is more of a marketing strategy than a valuable benefit. Denise Rousseau, Professor of organizational behavior and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, told Fast Company in an interview that unlimited PTO is sometimes seen as a form of virtue signaling to try and appeal to a younger demographic.

“Companies partly adopt the open-ended vacation policy to signal to a new generation of workers that they are a cool employer of choice,” Rousseau explained. “A lot of the benefit in that signal is reaped just by having people join the company.”

Regardless of a company’s motivation, unlimited PTO has undoubtedly become more appealing to younger generations as a valuable benefit that would entice them to take a certain job. With the employment landscape changing rapidly, the idea of having as much paid time off as possible makes more and more sense as an incentive for better quality work, as opposed to clocking in and out every day and just focusing on logging hours. It seems likely that Gen Zers will continue to emphasize the importance of these kinds of benefits in their job search, and one day in the not too distant future it’s not hard to imagine that unlimited PTO might very well be the norm. 

— Article by Sean Kelly, an analyst researching the latest industry trends for College Recruiter

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