Understanding Unlimited Paid Time Off (PTO) in Construction Management

Labor Day weekend, John and I traveled to Utah to see our daughter and her husband, who left Florida a couple of years ago to make a life there. This time of year, it was incredible—hot, but not too hot. They love to hike, bike, and snowboard, so to them, Utah is the perfect place to be. As John and I took in the spectacular views, we got a brief taste of the extreme highs and lows, going from near 90 degrees in Moab, down to dreary 60 degrees and bundling up in Park City on our last day.

The first Monday of September, unless you are in the hospitality and service industries, you typically get a day off in celebration of your and others’ contributions to our nation’s prosperity. Many in the construction industry count this day off as one to be taken for personal and family time, despite how much work to do or behind schedule your project might be. After all, another extra day off not counted toward your allotted paid time off is almost a full three months out from Thanksgiving, or is it?

A trend that gained popularity during Covid and is now hitting the workforce, including the construction management industry, is unlimited Paid Time Off (PTO) policies. Some companies are putting formal policies in place, and others that are small enough are informally setting precedent to set the limit on the honor system.

How Unlimited PTO Works in Construction Management

What is an unlimited PTO policy anyway? It is a less formal policy where employees do not get a set number of days to use annually for sick, personal, and vacation time after a traditional 90-day new-hire probationary period. Although this policy is not calculated through payroll notation and deduction or time noted on a paycheck as paid time off, for most programs to be successful, a communication and approval process must be established.

Benefits and Challenges of Unlimited PTO

You might ask then, What is the benefit? That, of course, depends on you as an individual and also the company you employ and its culture to support such a policy. The advocates state it is a powerful recruitment and retention tool, and it reduces time in monitoring and reporting. I suppose, from an administrative perspective, that is true. When it comes to hiring and retention, the employees that hire in to do a job and perform that role—meeting expectations, including the time required of them to be physically present in an office or jobsite—typically will earn the ability to take time off when needed. After all, they own and maintain the job they were hired to do, and they do it well, and these individuals are naturally a fit for a policy based on honor.

Considering both employer and employee, what makes an unlimited PTO policy a success?

Communicating Unlimited PTO

Earlier this year, I wrote an article entitled “How to Communicate in an Unplanned Absence” after working with multiple companies that, despite empathizing and understanding when someone had an illness or family need requiring them to unexpectedly be unable to work that day, the employee’s lack of proper communication not only subjected the company to potential lack of customer service and possible risk but, also put the employee themselves into question as to their commitment to the success of the company and/or project, despite their personal need. For an unlimited PTO policy to be successful, effectively communicating a planned or unplanned absence through designated communication channels is a must for success. If you are a member of The Society of Human Resources (SHRM), you can download a template of a sample Unlimited Paid Leave Policy (Exempt Employees). We have also included a free downloadable copy here.

Successful Unlimited PTO Coverage

If your role within your company has duplicity, then unlimited PTO is much easier to take than for those whose job does not get done if they are not there to do it. Often, in small business, a back-up person does the person’s job while also performing their own role and responsibilities. Construction Management project teams may have the ability to rotate who needs to be full time on-site or in the office and present at meetings, allowing individuals to work remotely or hybrid or be present with their personal families, communicating with their work family when they will be available to respond to business at hand. Successful unlimited PTO policies are dependent on the individual seeking the time off meeting all established goals for their job despite how much time they take off away from business as usual.

Potential Challenges with Unlimited PTO

An individual who is hired into a company having negotiated a month or more of paid time off with their previous employer, as they took consecutive weeks for extended travel, may expect to do the same or even increase this option in their new position. Although hiring into a company with unlimited paid time off, typically, the others within the organization do not take their time off for more than one week consecutively at a time, other than in an extended non-annual circumstance. International travel is on the rise, and many of your employees may have family out of the country where a visit a year can make the difference to their peace of mind that adds to their overall performance. Understanding needs and expectations prior to extending an offer is important for the long-term success of the new hire.

All State and Federal employment laws still apply, so it is important to have a written policy in place, reviewed and managed by a person who is well versed in these policies, particularly where time off for medical leave, elective and non-elective, occur. Laws are in place to help manage these circumstances, and following those laws will prevent your company from any penalties that could be assumed null and void with an unlimited PTO policy.

The Role of the Gatekeeper in Unlimited PTO in Construction Management

The gatekeeper of the policy should be an individual who manages by policy and not preferentialism. This is demonstrated with how they approve and communicate the process. This ideal individual can communicate and the person taking the PTO can demonstrate to all stakeholders that despite the physical absence, the work and relationships will be accomplished. If this gatekeeper plays favoritism, or worse depicts the person’s job was not responsibly covered when it was, then companies can risk losing top performers who would prefer a set number of days and less scrutiny.

How to Set Expectations for Unlimited PTO in Construction Management

Another communication factor imperative to the success of an unlimited PTO program is defining expectations of a hybrid manner. Our company has a policy that anything two hours or less is considered reciprocity; as long as it is not abused, and you work your salaried 40 hours a week, then it is your responsibility to make up the couple of hours you need here or there to manage your personal life. Anything over the two, you automatically get a half day or full day of PTO. We are not an unlimited PTO environment, although we do understand that everything needs to be covered, and that is where team and technology aide in mutual success.

The employment world, not too long ago, went from separate time off for sick, personal, and vacation time to an all-in PTO, and now the new unlimited PTO.

When hiring a new employee, or if you are the employee moving to a new company, even if an unlimited PTO policy is in place, it is still backed by a policy and culture that needs to be reviewed, understood, and bought into for success with meeting expectations at the company. Understanding the culture and what is expected of you to be present physically, vocally, or visually is key before accepting an offer to join a company new to you. Ensuring you match their expectations with the environment you thrive in and that works for your personal and professional life combined is imperative for success.

The Future of Unlimited PTO in Construction Management

The construction industry still has its extremes—those who like to see eyeballs and others who you may crave to physically be with, yet who mainly remote in. At the end of the day, whatever a company’s PTO policy is, matching it to what will keep everyone on the same page and the company sustainable and profitable is what matters. The rest is balanced with the ability to know when you are taking more than you are giving.

To The Right Time Off,

Suzanne Breistol




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