The Magic of PTO

I started working at SpiderOak back before we had an HR department or many formal company policies. Most of us were contractors. Since we didn’t have other benefits, we had “unlimited time off.” (This was pretty popular in the startup world back then.) The idea is great; take as much time as you need! The thing the company values is you getting your work done, not counting your hours at work. In practice I found that to be true. I was almost never asked to track hours or account for my time. As far as taking time off, I was also never told I could not take time off. But no one ever took much time off.

It’s fine to say that everyone can have as much time off as they want or need, but everyone in my department ended up taking very little because we felt guilty. Staffing was tight, as it tends to be at startups, and me taking time off means my colleagues need to cover for me.

One magical day a few years later, when we were all full time employees with benefits and health care, we started to have a more formalized HR policy with Paid Time Off limits and the ability to roll over two weeks of vacation time from one year to the next. When we had clear limits on how much time we were allowed to take and a clear “use it or lose it” policy, everyone started to take more time off. Not only that, we stopped feeling guilty about it. Everyone knew how much time off they had, it was easy to put in for vacation and sick days, and it was also easy to see who was out of the office across the company. This was huge! I no longer needed to wonder when a coworker in another department would return from vacation. I simply had to check the PTO system.

During the last few months, having a system like this in place has been a lifesaver. Everyone is feeling more stress than normal. It’s important to take time off, to recharge, and to step away from work even if we’re not able to get too far away from the space that we work from home in. I’m grateful to be at a company where we have normalized the PTO process and that employees are encouraged to take time off.

Use the time you need to take care of yourself. If you get paid time off, take advantage of this great benefit.


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