Are you working for free?

Are you working for free? I hope you value your time enough not to do so. Believe it or not, it’s possible you might be working for free without even realizing it. This is true if you work for a company that has a “use it or lose it” PTO policy and you don’t use all your PTO.

A lot of people tend to think of PTO or “paid time off” as being time. After all, we typically accrue it by the hour. But I believe a more accurate perspective is to consider PTO as money in a “savings account” which you earn and which accrues as you work.

Typically you accrue a certain amount of PTO per pay period or per month. And often if you separate from your employer, that PTO balance will often be paid out to you. It’s like taking a withdrawal from your savings account of these earnings.

Without PTO, in most cases, if you don’t work, you simply don’t get paid. PTO acts as a form of retained earnings in a savings account which is tapped to supplement your actual earnings at paycheck time. This ensures your paycheck is in line with your typical paycheck even if you spent a week in Tahiti and didn’t do a minute of work.

One thing to be wary of is the “use it or lose it” PTO policy. It’s like having the company empty your savings account at the end of the year if you didn’t use it. These dollars are yours and you should collect them by taking a day off.

If you don’t use your PTO you can consider it in two ways. Your savings account is being zeroed out. Or you could consider that your working X number of days for free. (You still would have got paid had you not worked).

Don’t Do This!

Let me be clear. DO NOT WORK FOR FREE! Have more respect for your own time. Generally, it’s a pretty good practice to accept the pay and benefits that a company offers you as part of your employment agreement. Imagine the employee that arranges to decline their pay. “I like working here so much you don’t need to pay me!”. Well, this is unlikely to happen. Yet it’s not uncommon for employees to pass up some of their benefits like paid time off. The company is arranging to pay them for time not worked, but they are declining?

Take a break. Your literally earned it.

Why Would People Do This?

It’s pretty irrational to work for free. Even the most dedicated workaholics aren’t that gung ho and altruistic to donate their time to the company for no benefit.

It’s likely that many do it out of insecurity or trying to keep face. Their thinking might be:

  • I’m not that valuable to the company and if I take time off maybe they will decide to get rid of me.
  • I want to create the impression that I am a die-hard worker that never takes a break.

In my opinion, this is nonsense. If your company might get rid of you for taking some time off, then it’s not likely a place you should want to work in the first place. Take a look at European time off.

This or the cubicle. Trouble deciding?

If you want to create the impression that you are a dedicated employee that is too committed to the company to ever take time off, consider that burn out is a real thing. Assuming your job isn’t the only thing you’re living for, time off often truly is invigorating and can recharge you.

I tend to take off a couple of weeks or so to disconnect and I can confirm that by the end of my vacation, I’m typically recharged and at some point actually miss the office. During this time of disconnecting you can often get a more broad perspective of your work and have some true insights from taking a step back.

So if you have a use it or lose it PTO policy, please do us all a favor and drop the facade..take the much needed time off.