Woman using laptop in camper van on vacation
Outside Business Journal

Is unlimited vacation too good to be true?

Two gear makers with very different approaches to PTO square off

Woman using laptop in camper van on vacation

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Do you work at a company with an unlimited paid time off policy, or does your employer set a limit on the number of vacation days you can take every year? The industry (and the working world more broadly) has debated the topic for years. To get some perspective on the issue, we asked two gear makers with divergent opinions. Here’s what they said.

“Done right, it’s a dream”

—Peter Dering, founder and CEO at Peak Design

Peak Design

When people talk about unlimited paid time off (PTO), they start by asking what unlimited really means: Does everyone take vacation all the time? Or does no one take it because there’s no set amount and they’re afraid of asking too much?

I would say the tone of that is really set by the founder—it has to come from the top down. Peak Design has offered unlimited PTO since our inception 10 years ago. We celebrate vacation here. I personally take a lot of time off—on average, I work about 35 hours per week. And on Slack, if someone posts that they’re out of the office for an hour or a half-day or whatever, I get on them. I tell them they don’t need to tell me every time they step out of the office because I don’t care. The most valuable gift I can give you as your employer is to make you feel like you’re your own person—and that means there’s no guilt associated with taking time off. There’s no micromanaging.

The glue that holds this all together is trust. You have to hire the right people and have people who are committed to the team. And you have to trust those people to get their work done and take time off when they need it. At Peak Design, that’s certainly the case. We’ve never had an employee abuse the policy.

We don’t track vacation days—again, avoiding micromanaging—but I’d say people at Peak Design work fewer hours and spend more time on vacation than the vast majority of companies. As for the business benefits? There’s only one employee who ever moved on from Peak Design that we didn’t want to. So retention is great. And it’s a competitive advantage for us in hiring. But overall, what’s good for employees is good for employers. And what could be a better goal than the health and well-being of your employees?

“Limited PTO is better for business”

—Garett Mariano, marketing director at Big Agnes

Big Agnes

Paid time off isn’t the whole picture. At Big Agnes, employees receive between five and 15 days of PTO based on their tenure. Having a defined number of days off makes it easier to push my employees to get out when they fall into a cycle of cranking hard at the office, and it gives employees the comfort of knowing they have allotted time that they’re entitled to and can plan around. From an employee’s perspective, it’s easier to say, “OK, I’ve got these ten days. It’s
beautiful outside. I need to use them.”

Employees also have personal and sick time and two days of “industry paid time” so they can volunteer or go to industry-related events. We also have a flexible work environment. Our location in Steamboat Springs is just steps from the river and trails, which means employees can really get after it before, during, and after work. This includes taking full advantage of powder mornings at Steamboat or the nearby backcountry. Our office closes at 1 p.m. on Fridays so staff can get going with their weekend plans. Big Agnes also recognizes that recreating and recovering can be expensive, so employees receive a $750 wellness benefit that they can put toward a ski pass, yoga classes, or other memberships.

But ultimately, we do have a business to run, and our employees understand that we need to come together and get our jobs done to build the brand and a sustainable business. We have a work-hard, play-hard mentality.

This story first appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of our print magazine. 

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