Designing the ideal Paid Time Off policy


The recipe for the ideal start-up leave policy, like regular recipes, varies depending on who you ask ("A pinch of freedom here, a dash of trust there").

We’re infamously powered by hustle culture, and it doesn’t help that time off is often associated with empty desks and low productivity.

It can be tempting to power through tasks without a day off. But taking time off works in favour of employees and organisations.

It is worth acknowledging, in public, that wanting to be invincible is great, but every superhero needs some time off.

Here are our tips for designing a startup leave policy that’s empathetic, transparent, and systematic.

Shape a healthy start-up culture from the get-go

A good paid time off policy depends on a culture that encourages time off more than it prioritises tracking absence.

If you’re struggling with that, it might help to set minimum time off per person, so that everyone feels actively encouraged to take paid time off.

At scale, this practice can help anchor what ‘reasonable time off’ could look like for the office.

Ask and answer the right questions

PTO policies are nuanced. They need to be enticing enough for team members to come on board and stay, while also being cost-effective. Some great-to-ask questions when designing the ideal leave policy are:

a) Does this policy work towards the desired work culture?

b) Does it influence the workplace’s ability to attract candidates of high calibre?

c) Is this leave policy sustainable for individuals, teams and employees?

d) Are employees entitled to a set number of PTO days every year or do they not have a limit?

e) Are there barriers to remove that could discourage employees from taking well-deserved time off?

Outline the types of leave you want to include

Leave management terminologies can be a murky quagmire that even the best of us need help getting out of.

Paid time off policies in some countries fall under the generic categories of: sick, casual, unpaid, parental, marriage or bereavement. When defining this, it helps to look at the overarching government regulations and mandates to play things by the book.

We also advocate adding other types of leave that are aimed at being much more inclusive. These include mental health, menstrual, and burnout leave.

It’s your choice which ones to introduce. But these form a handy base that you can later fill in the blanks on!

Create flexibility to truly empower your people

“Joe Bloggs doesn’t have fixed work hours, I’m sure they don’t work enough.”

This is a popular workplace sentiment. It unfortunately defines work done and productivity solely by the number of hours clocked.

Over time, you might find colleagues pulling each other down (crab mentality, anyone?) or pressing down too hard on the gas — and that’s a recipe for disaster.

Say “no, thank you” to that stigma. Many studies show that flexibility goes a long way in increasing productivity and our overall happiness.

These should ideally be supported by well-defined guidelines that create transparency and accountability even outside the workplace.

Build time off into your roadmap and think long-term

In the case of a new start-up, creating a realistic roadmap is a major headache. Almost everything takes longer than it should and the team is still adapting to each other.

It doesn’t help that, with limited resources, everyone is critical and can’t fill in for each other. (If all this sounds familiar, we feel you, we really do.)

It makes sense to budget—both time and money-wise—for vacation time and unforeseen circumstances. Accounting for time off while planning can help you avoid delays and missed milestones.

The final word

Many start-ups struggle to devote time to defining their workplace culture from the start. Such is life, as is business. But as custodians of future workplaces, it’s a great idea to make room for culture from the get-go.

A great paid time off policy works for the greater good of all. So why not do it the right way?

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