Remember the days when there was a distinction between the amount of sick time and vacation time we got at work? If you don’t, you’ve likely always worked at modern companies, where vacation days/sick days/personal days are typically lumped together and known as “paid time off” or PTO.

While most companies have moved to PTO, a small (although rapidly growing) number of employers are taking it a step further. They’ve stopped counting all together. Need some time? You can take as much as you want — with the caveat that you still have to get all your work done.

The number of postings mentioning “unlimited PTO policies” was up 178 percent from May 2015 to May 2019, according to study by job site Indeed. (Although to put it in perspective, that still is only just 0.13 percent of job listings.)

If your company has recently adopted similar rules, or you’re weighing a new position that offers it, you might be wondering how to navigate an unlimited PTO policy.

UNLIMITED PTO DOESN’T MEAN LESS WORK

Let’s just get this one on the table. Unlimited PTO isn’t a license to come in once a month. You still have to get your work done.

Since the Maine Marketing Association implemented unlimited PTO, founder Sean Collins says they have changed their interviewing process to a laser focus on screening for motivation and other positive traits to avoid hiring someone who will take advantage of the system. While they don’t track face time, they do track output; each employee is required to document work and hit deadlines. “You should have a list of tasks you need to complete each week or month and keep your manager in the loop,” he says. In other words, unlimited time off should apply only if your work is already completed or is on track.

FIND THE HAPPY MEDIUM

Since you still have to complete your work and you don’t want to be the team member who’s never around, being allowed to take all the time off can create an odd reverse psychology dynamic — workers may overcompensate and actually take fewer days off in an effort not to take "too much,” points out Ciara Hautau, lead digital marketing strategist at Fueled, an app and web development agency that offers unlimited PTO. “You almost feel guilty taking advantage of it.”

Many companies have realized this aspect of human nature and mandate that employees take at least a certain amount of days off. Sam Johns, a career counselor at Resume Genius, is now in his second stint with a company offering unlimited PTO and is pleased with the current policy requiring a minimum of 15 days off. “I was wary when I saw the job posting advertising unlimited PTO due to a previous bad experience, but since we have to take 15 days off at a minimum, we actually do get the rest that we deserve,” he says.

PLAN TO PLAN AHEAD

Just because PTO is unlimited doesn’t mean taking time off is entirely up to you. In some companies, even ones with unlimited PTO, notice may still be required and days off granted on a first-come/first-served basis. Whether it’s required or not, it’s probably still a good idea to give your manager ample notice for prospective days out of office.

Fueled recently implemented a new policy requiring two weeks of notice for requests for two or more consecutive days off and four weeks of notice for more than one week off. See what your company suggests and follow those rules at a minimum.

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