How to ensure that your flexible PTO (Paid Time Off) benefits your employee while not denting you

“I’m not sure if a flexible PTO policy would work for us. What if our employees abuse it?”

Well, if you have employees that may abuse a benefit, you have bigger problems than your PTO policy.

You need employees you can trust. If you don’t have them, hire them. You need people that take responsibility for their share of duties, people who own it and do it and who come to work because they are driven, engaged and motivated, and not because your PTO policy forces them to.

That being said, flexible PTO is not:

“Please take a vacation as and when you please. Don’t worry about how it affects work.”

What is a Flexible PTO?

A Flexible PTO or Flexible paid time off is when employees avail time off without worrying about the number of days they are away – be it sick, casual, or vacation time. With Flexible PTO employees need not be forced to swap sick days with vacation leave or vice versa.

This sends a message to the employees: “We trust you and believe that you are capable of managing your time and efforts to achieve the goals you or your team have been entrusted with. Have fun.”

Challenges in Flexible PTO

Flexible PTO brings along its own set of challenges.

Your company should be able to function with employees taking off as and when they choose. You must not require their constant availability. Work must be shiftable with a conducive environment to allow that.

If you implement flexible time off, you can’t then go back and add any rules or disclaimers because that would take away the very essence of it. That would be hypocrisy! 

So then, what do you do?

Get to the root of things. Most times, an employee is not deliberately looking to abuse your paid time-off policy. If you observe carefully, you will track absenteeism back to one of these things: lack of morale at the workplace, disengagement or weak motivation, not feeling challenged and personal hardships, which may sometimes, prompt them to take advantage of the system. 

Most often or always, it’s fixable but with a little help.

Winning with flexible PTO

Before you address employee absenteeism within a flexible PTO framework, you need to have a few facts clearly established in your mind to win with flexible time off.

  1. Implementing a successful flexible PTO policy begins with believing, understanding and agreeing with the fact that employees as adults can and should take care of their own responsibilities. An employer-employee relationship is built on mutual trust, honor, and respect.
  2. Every employee is different. Just like how the skills and experience they bring are diverse, their style of work, ability to manage their leaves and relationships are different as well. Managers should focus on what really matters: meeting goals, initiatives, innovations, relationships / the spirit of the team, values, etc. They should give their employees their space to accommodate the fact that every employee might take different means to achieve their goals and objectives. Performance matters. Not time off.

Tackling absenteeism with a flexible PTO

Just because you decided to adopt a flexible PTO policy, it doesn’t mean you have to stand back and watch your employees abuse or misuse it.

That would not be fair to you, or your other employees. That certainly is also not the way to go for your employee too.


Way Ahead



No one practices telepathy at work.

Tell your employees what you expect of them. Do it with courtesy. Do it with the intention of mutual understanding. Do it as often as you can. 

Never expect your employees to behave in a certain way when you haven’t communicated it to them. If you notice that they are not really managing their time off well, here are some things you can encourage them to do so:

  1. Encourage them to plan their vacations well in advance.
  2. If it’s a planned vacation and they have an option to decide on the dates, request them to always discuss with their managers or peers on what dates would work for them too. It shouldn’t always be about just passing time-off information. Even if it’s just remote work.
  3. Ask them to ensure that they have transferred knowledge and authority to another colleague during the time-off period, if needed.
  4. Communicate that efforts and results matter and that vacations should not hinder them from what they are willing to achieve at work or have committed to achieving at work.

The easiest way to communicate is by setting an example. Encourage your leaders and managers to lead by example. Instead of framing policies or rules, focus on building a culture and workplace where people take responsibility for their chunk of things and where people have deep honor for each other.

#2 Show them that they belong


Your aim should be to help them belong, not employee engagement or motivation. It’s the sense of belonging that drives employees to take ownership, to steward work relationships with care, and bring their best to work.

According to LinkedIn’s Inside the Mind of Today’s Candidate report, here are a few things that employees said gave them a great sense of belonging at their workplaces.

#3 Tie performance to results, not perception

It’s your employee’s performance that affects the organization’s business goals, not their time at or off work.

Tie their performance back to concrete results. Talk business. If you notice that an employee is able to deliver the best at work in spite of their long or short vacations, then just let them have it. “Best at work” includes not only their tasks, goals, or projects, but also their relationships with peers, their ability to clear dependencies as and when they pop up, their ability to delegate, etc.

Define your performance indicators clearly and ensure that your employees are aware of them to establish clarity.

#4 Embrace empathy

Everyone is fighting a battle and some more fierce than others. 

As leaders or managers, embrace empathy before anything else. 

Talk to your employees especially those that seem to go off often. Find out if anything is wrong. Do whatever is in your power to help them get back on their feet. It could be temporary light-weight projects, a project change, a relatively longer vacation – whatever you think would help them bring back their brighter selves to work.

Empathy opens people up to you. It gives you an opportunity to connect, influence and build great work-friendships. It goes a long way.

It’s your turn now

Tell us how flexible PTO works for you – be it challenges, benefits, ideas. If you have any questions, we’re all ears!