The questions you should ask about unlimited PTO

True perk or just a marketing tactic? Here are the questions every candidate should ask when interviewing with a company that offers unlimited PTO.

The questions you should ask about unlimited PTO

Unlimited PTO can be a true perk—if it’s built on a culture that prioritizes rest as a crucial building block to building a healthy workplace. If that cultural foundation isn’t there though, research shows that employees under an unlimited PTO policy often end up taking less time off—and what looked like a great perk on the surface can actually be a disadvantage.

So if you’re in an interview process with a company that promotes unlimited PTO, how can you tell if it is a true, meaningful perk, and not just an employer branding tactic that isn’t actually lived in the day-to-day routine?

We thought there are no better humans to answer these questions than the leaders from the people-first community who work at companies that offer unlimited vacation. Here are the experts we reached out to:  

Let’s dive into what they said!

Don’t be afraid to ask about unlimited PTO (and other perks)

We know it can feel awkward to ask about time off policies in an interview. But the benefits an employer provides likely play a crucial role for your decision-making process, and the interview is when you can learn all about them. Once the interviewer asks if you have any questions and you got all questions related to the specific role answered, it’s absolutely fair to ask about benefits, including the PTO policy.

And the truth is: Leaders at companies that are truly people-first will love any opportunity to talk about these topics. If the interviewer seems to appreciate questions around rest and the team’s culture and passionately talks about how company culture and policies fit together, that’s a first indicator that you might have found a place that truly cares about their people. If they’re trying to avoid the topic or are struggling to provide great answers to your questions regarding time off, that’s when your spidey senses should start tingling.

The questions you can ask to truly understand an unlimited PTO policy

Once you’re ready to launch into the conversation about unlimited PTO, here are a few ideas for questions you can ask.

Kiara Cowart, People Ops Specialist at Hipcamp recommends asking about both the history of unlimited PTO policy and how it’s lived in the day-to-day routine:

  • Why did you implement the unlimited vacation policy?
    Hearing about the history of this PTO policy (and what drove the team to implement it in the first place) is a great starting point for your conversation.
  • Is there a recommended minimum number of days that your team should take off?
    Some companies set a mandatory minimum of vacation days to make sure folks actually take time off. If the company you’re interviewing with does not, you might want to ask…
  • How do you ensure that your team is taking care of themselves and team members actually use the unlimited vacation time?

Winnie Lok, Operations Associate at the people-first team at Knack also recommends digging into how the vacation policy fits into the team’s culture—and encourages you to not be afraid to ask about hard facts either:

  • How does the unlimited PTO policy fit into your company’s culture?
    A truly people-first leader will love this question because it will allow them to expand on the company culture and how it translates into policies and behaviors.
  • What is the average PTO time each employee takes off a year?
    Yes, this one is really straightforward. But nothing provides you with a clearer picture of the effectiveness of a team’s PTO policy than hearing how many days folks actually take off.
  • How long has the unlimited PTO policy been in place?
    If it’s been around for a while, ask about the experience the team has made and what they’ve learned so far. If it’s new, it’s a great chance to learn more about how frequently the company experiments with new policies that are aimed at building a great place to work—and how they collect feedback from the team along the way.

Kendra Dixon, Head of Operations at Parabol, says it’s important to remember that unlimited PTO is just a piece of the puzzle. So if you’re looking to get a deeper understanding of how a team balances work and rest, you might want to ask something like:

  • What routines does your company have in place that ensure your team feels engaged while still having time to rest and recharge?
    This is a great question to move beyond the topic of vacation policies to get a better understanding of how the team prioritizes time to rest.

What other questions should candidates ask about unlimited PTO? Let us hear them!

If you've ever interviewed with a company that offers unlimited PTO and want to share additional questions that sparked great conversation, let us hear them so we can add to this post.

And if you're reading this post in preparation for an interview: You've got this! We've got our fingers crossed for you—and we also wanted you to know that there's a community of people-first companies that are looking for motivated people just like you. Check out the open roles.

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