back to article Microsoft to offer unlimited time off for US staff

Microsoft is to allow US staff to take unlimited time off in a policy change that is supposed to give them more flexibility but, unsurprisingly, will also have a cost benefit to Redmond. "How, when, and where we do our jobs has dramatically changed," wrote Kathleen Hogan, chief people officer at Microsoft in a memo to staff, …

  1. Martin Summers Silver badge

    Subject to a fair use policy, terms and conditions apply. We reserve the right to bury you in work and sack you if you dare to use it. Managers have a right to deny your leave if they just don't like you very much, or if everyone else is off at the same time as you want.


    1. Tom Chiverton 1

      If your manage is terrible, and doesn't value you, then you already have this problem

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        But at least they have to pay you out for the hours/days

        as opposed to "Unlimited"* time off.

        A bigger problem is that this is being used for redlining and selective termination as there is no "right" answer an employee can look to for how much time they can actually take. Unless you are a shitbird, in which case layer up and game the system till it goes to a wrongful termination suit.

        This is just the next predatory HR craze, like making people sign away their rights in shady arbitration clauses, making everyone a "Manger" to dodge overtime, or moving staff to a sub-contractors to dodge parts of the employee benefit package.

        * (subject to terms and conditions, actual employees need not apply, as your manager won't approve it unless you are also management, or will use it against you in your performance review)

  2. naive

    They could also do this with salary

    Just put a pot of dollar bills on the floor on the last Friday of the month, the greedy ones should be fired, uhhhmm.. relocated.

    It creates weird incentives. In times when the economy is in decline, people will take little time off out of fear for being relocated (in IBM speak).

    When things are booming and the company could use the capacity, people feel more secure, since there are many jobs available, and take off more.

  3. YetAnotherXyzzy Bronze badge

    I've worked for employers with both types of leave policies, in multiple countries with very different labor laws and practices, and in my limited experience what matters is the company culture, not the HR policy or the law.

    When I was a U.S. Federal employee, annual leave was quantified and very generous. It was also entirely hypothetical because no one was ever allowed to take more than a fraction of accumulated leave. It was made clear that requesting more than a few days at a time, or aspiring to use more than a fraction of your annual leave before it disappeared at the end of the year, was bad form. As I was leaving that position, I was told that (1) no I won't be allowed to take my accumulated leave before it expires, and (2) the effective date of my departure would be right after the use-it-or-lose-it cutoff specifically so they won't have to pay me its cash equivalent. Which tells you a lot about labor relations there and why I left.

    My current employer switched from quantified to unlimited leave a couple of years ago. Here, supervisors have always encouraged employees to take leave, and that did not change.

    So all this hand wringing over which policy is better seems to me to be misplaced. A good employer will do the right thing, and a bad employer will screw you, whatever the FAM or the HR manual says.

  4. Natalie Gritpants Jr

    Looks like it goes from 4 weeks PTO to 2. Roughly a 4% pay cut if you then take another 2 weeks UPTO. Lovely.

    1. midcapwarrior

      You had to be an employee for 10 years to get 4 weeks. PTO started at 2 weeks and hit a cap of 5 weeks.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        4 weeks is only 20 days, that’s a very miserly allowance.

        1. nintendoeats Silver badge

          I was thinking about this over Christmas. In order to meet the visitation demands of my parents, take the random days off one needs to take care of things in life, and actually have time off for myself, I would need at least 5 weeks off. Looks like my mother is never going to get off my case.

  5. nintendoeats Silver badge

    Challenge for corporations: If this is not about reducing the amount of PTO that people take, then include liability terms in the contract: guarantee that workers will receive a minimum PTO for a given year, and provide 1.5x hourly compensation if that isn't met.

  6. OhForF' Silver badge

    Do i understand this right?

    If US companies allow a limited paid time off they have to keep money earmarked for paying for that.

    If they offer unlimited paid time off it would be impossible to reserve unlimited money to pay for it so they don't have to do that. As it is not clear how much money they'd need anyway they do not need to reserve any money for PTO if they don't set a limit.

    So they can get out of the obligation to reserve money for paid time off by just claiming to offer unlimited PTO but at the same time denying any request for PTO when management feels like it?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yes. Accrued time-off is a liability on the books in accounting. That is accounting principles and should not be unique to the U.S.

      Joe earns $100 per day. Joe has earned a vacation day. The company therefore has a $100 liability that they owe Joe. If employees start to 'bank' time off that can add up to a lot of payroll money set aside.

      1. OhForF' Silver badge

        That is definitely not unique and works the same here. What i have trouble believing is that US companies can get rid of that liability by simply claiming to offer unlimited PTO.

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Even weirder in the land of the weird - you accrue sick time

      Since you can never take this, because they can fire you if you are sick, you get paid out for it when you leave.

      For government jobs you end up with cases where somebody has worked there for 30+ years and has a few years of unused sick leave which is paid when they retire - so their final year's salary is 3x their normal salary. Since govt salaries are all public there is always a scandal story by certain news organisations about a school janitor or binman refusal disposal operative "earning" $200K pa

      1. gobaskof

        I worked for the US Government*, all the time we would get emails sent around saying things like.

        "Joe has been working here for 25 years, he has cancer and has now used up all his accrued sick leave. We will be force to fire Joe, he will loose his health insurance, bankrupt his family, and die a preventable death. This can be stopped if you donate your sick leave to Joe"

        Everyone thought it was totally normal. If you suggest maybe they as the government could just decide not to kill Joe and bankrupt his family, then you were a commie. Individually Americans are very generous, as far as I know every "Joe" was kept alive by people donating sick leave.

        So glad I got out of that country.

        *Technically I was an independent contractor hired by the US government because I was not American

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          There always a scam behind these things

          The companies generally didn't credit this as "dollar" equivalents, just in "days" or "hours", so if I made 40/hr and donated an hour of PTO to groundskeeper willy at 5.75/hr, the company pocketed the difference. Note that the higher ups were not likely to ever hit the bumpers and this would almost always play to their favor, as the people that make the least also get the least amount of PTO and can't afford to donate any of it.

          Management loves a good conflict of interest. Not that the idea was inherently evil, just the implementation in most cases.

  7. Marty McFly Silver badge

    Christmas picture...

    A month ago I went to produce the annual Christmas card and went scrounging for vacation photos. Then I realized we didn't take a vacation in 2022. Sure, a few days off here and there, but no actual week long break.

    I've been on the unlimited time off plan for years. At least under the old plan I capped out on accrual and was forced to take a break. Now I just keep grinding away unless I have a reason to take time off. Yeah, I know I could, and yeah, I know it is my fault for not taking advantage of it.

    So unlimited time off....that's a company win.

    Meanwhile, in HR.... "We believe it is healthy for employees to take a needed break to recharge..."

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Christmas picture...

      We don't have unlimited time off so I got an email from HRs "wellness" group:

      Dear corporate drone

      You have a large unused PTO account.

      It's important for all our team members to have a well deserved break.

      Please schedule some vacation by <some date>

      And it arrived on a bank holiday that I was being forced to work because of a pointless last minute demo to a visiting executive.

  8. Occasional Comentard

    My son works for a US company that has unimited leave, even though he is UK based. He still needs to get all the work done though, which just means working longer hours on other days, and it hasn't helped his general stress levels at all.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      And they expect you to be working normally on UK bank holidays that they don't know about - while scheduling you as cover for all the US holidays because you don't do thanksgiving

  9. AnotherAnonymousCoward-PartOfTheHerd

    Yes, seems like it puts your boss back in total control and opens up a huge opportunity on their part for gamesmanship.

    Another point I didn't see, but may have been mentioned by others is that here in teh USA you have to be paid for accrued but unused vacation time if you leave in your last/severance pay.

    Well, this just eliminated that.

    Most of my bosses I would be OK with this policy, but there have been a few.....

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      here in teh USA you have to be paid for accrued but unused vacation time

      I think that’s standard anywhere.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        But in most US states employers are allowed to harvest your organs - so it's odd that you actually get paid for time you are owed.

    2. Ace2 Silver badge

      The payout for unused leave thing is true in some states but not others.

    3. midcapwarrior

      Payment for accrued vacation is not a US wide requirement. It's a state by state thing and smaller companies can be exempt from the requirement.

      I've worked at small companies that did not pay out and did not rollover unused vacation.

  10. elkster88
    Big Brother

    This is all too familiar...

    I am a recent retiree from a tech megacorp that instituted an "unlimited" PTO policy not long after I started working for them.

    My boss said it was a good thing, as it meant that a couple of us new guys in his group could get a bit more vacation than we would have been entitled to (2 weeks) under the guaranteed entitlement plan. I was a senior engineer and had previously been entitled to 5 weeks leave at my last employer, so I regarded this as a welcome change.

    That boss was laid off not long after the policy change, and my next manager announced that he interpreted the new "unlimited" PTO policy to mean "undefined" and that he consequently had discretion to dole out time off in accordance with the old guidelines, which meant I was back to 2 weeks per year. I did manage to squeeze out a bit more holidays than those 2 weeks per year but it was always with a bit of tension and it was obvious that my boss thought he was doing me a huge favor to allow it.

    Of course the reason for doing so was to eliminate the financial liability of having to pay for accumulated time off when people left the company. The company also at the same time got rid of paying out 401k matching money on every check, instead making a one time payment in the next fiscal year only to those employees who were on the payroll post December 15th. This was also proclaimed as a benefit because they increased the matching percentage by one percent, but of course it was a huge "Fuck You" to the employees who left voluntarily or were laid off any time between Jan 1st and December 15th.

    Extremely glad to be out of there, the most employee-unfriendly outfit I have ever worked for.

    PS I made sure my last official day of employment was December 16th, and took the last week and a bit off as PTO...

    1. Ace2 Silver badge

      Re: This is all too familiar...

      Oh come on, name names! We demand to know!

  11. werdsmith Silver badge

    Having a think about this, I have 30 days of leave plus public holidays. I use them all, any left at the end of the year I tag onto Christmas / New Year shutdown, have a 3 week break.

    If I didn’t have that number 30 to aim at, maybe I would end up taking less days off.

    I recall over hearing two ladies who worked as prototype wiring people, having a conversation: “I’ve still got three sick days left, I don’t when when I’m going to take them”. I think referring to her annual allocation of days that can be taken sick with full pay.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      It's a trap!

      The smoke and mirrors of unlimited paid time off

      Yet there are also a number of companies that have experimented with UPTO only to end the policy and pronounce it a failure. Workers often end up taking less time off than they did with a fixed policy. A 2018 survey showed workers with UPTO took fewer holidays than those with a fixed allocation; according to another poll, one-third of US workers with UPTO always work on holiday.

      US-based networking company Facet is one company that abandoned UPTO after it found its workers were taking fewer holidays. The CEO of London-based recruiting company Unknown, meanwhile, went viral in a LinkedIn post that explained the firm cancelled its UPTO scheme after people felt guilty and never took time off. (They’ve instead transitioned to giving 32 paid days off, universally across the ranks.)

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      I tend to store up some paid leave days, using anything that's going to expire but otherwise keeping a buffer. I do that so that, in case of emergency, I have days I could use outside of work and I have evidence to show a manager that I don't use time off too often so they don't expect I'd take days at short notice unless I needed to. With "unlimited", this breaks entirely. I'm not sure how I'd actually use the days, but I'm certain it would be much worse for me if my employer switched to a policy like that.

  12. EvilGardenGnome

    Mandatory minimums or bugger off

    My company has "unlimited" PTO, and they regularly talk to employees about their time off needs. Ignore they only do that for people with high rates of time off, ignore that they pass them over for advancement, ignore that they still have blackout days. Unlimited is great. /s

    Also, if a company is bringing in unlimited PTO without adding a mandatory minimum time off (ie. all you need, but you have to take at least 15 working days per annum), they are not doing it for the employees. If they actually cared about your stress and well being, they'd make sure you took enough time off to be healthy.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I hope that the entire Windows development team takes 2023 off.

    1. hittitezombie

      How would you notice?

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Funny accounting

    Yeah, not much more comfortable with the idea the company doesn't have the money to pay out my due benefits for time off or sick days than I would be for my retirement fund. If they owe their employees a million dollars in wages, PTO, or pension funds, they need the money to settle those accounts set aside.

    I'd count my fingers if my boss starts announcing these moves in the face of rising interest rates, inflation, and a looming recession. This is the sort of move they make when they are already planning a rug-pull.

  15. Doogie Howser MD

    It's a con

    I've never worked for a company that has this policy but know some who have, and the pressure of deciding how many days PTO you are worth ultimately meant them taking fewer days than previously.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A slightly different approach where I am...

    I work for a generic Big Tech firm (and am still employed as of today *toots horn feebly*).

    Where I am they don't track PTO for salaried employees at a corporate level. You're given a guideline of "You should take approximately X weeks per year vacation, and anything under 10 consecutive sick days we don't track", and by and large management is pretty good about 1) not obsessing over the exact amount and 2) Making sure employees actually take it.

    That said, I always felt unlimited PTO was really kind of a sham and a way to guilt/manipulate employee behaviors.

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