Part 1: Building Culture - Let’s talk PTO

August 11, 20222 min read
Part 1: Building Culture - Let’s talk PTO
How I spend most of my PTO
A.J. Forkner
A.J. Forkner
Customer success at Spot, here to help you launch a successful virtual office!

Let’s be real: I can sit here and talk all about the urban legend of Accountants inventing unlimited PTO, the drawbacks of not taking enough and ending up burnt out, or those that take TOO much advantage of a liberal PTO policy.

As you build your team, rather than just throwing out “Unlimited PTO” with no definitions - putting some structure behind it will show your employees that you’ve diligently thought about their wellbeing and support them disconnecting from work. The trickle down effect will positively influence your company culture in a multitude of ways:

  • Competitive differentiation (in your favor) for candidates with multiple offers
  • Positive communication amongst the existing team about what they’re going to do with (insert name of PTO plan)
  • Truly refreshed and energetic teams that are motivated to tackle tough challenges

I thought I’d share some cool PTO policies I’ve seen in the wild from companies on the leading edge of implementing a strong work/life balance culture as they grow.

  1. Summer Fridays: Implemented a variety of ways, whether it’s frontloading the week to have the full day off on Friday, or no scheduled internal meetings on Fridays, you can get creative here. Just make sure you’re clear on when it starts/ends - is it from Memorial Day to Labor Day? June/July/August?
  2. Disconnect incentive: I talked with a Graham Thorton, CEO of Change State, recently that offers a $1K bonus when 5 consecutive PTO days are taken and it can be proven that you did not log into asynchronous communication platforms (email, messaging platforms, etc.)
  3. Transition Time: Hospitality tech provider SevenRooms does this well. From their careers page - “SevenRooms provides all employees with their first two (2) weeks of employment as paid time off to relax and recharge before starting their journey with us.”
    No matter how urgently you need them, ensure that your newest teammates have at least a 1 week break in between roles. Offering it paid at their regular rate, and allowing their benefits to start earlier will offer some reprieve if there’s concern about the financial impact.
  4. Minimum PTO: Unlimited is so ambiguous, that it needs clarification around expectations. An easy baseline - 5 business days a quarter, with at least one one those breaks being consecutive days off.
  5. Tenure Sabbatical: I talked with a friend one time that had just hit 4 years at a startup, breaking the golden handcuffs of a full vesting schedule. When I asked if he was going to start looking for something new, he said “they’ll have to drag me out of this place.” I thought... that is COMMITMENT. With genuine curiosity, I asked, “why?” Personally, I wondered how they had built such a strong culture that incentives tenured employees to stick around. He said “We have the 5/6/7 program. At 5 years of service, I get $6K from the company and a 7 week sabbatical.” While this obviously isn’t a free option - it is an organic culture builder between tenured and new employees, instilling confidence in new employees that this is a great place to work, you have a future here, and a great retention builder for your loyal employees.

In Part 2 of Building Culture, we’ll talk about low cost, high ROI benefit programs I’ve seen throughout my career. Stay tuned!

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