small business pto ideas

5 Ridiculous (And Not So Ridiculous) PTO Ideas You Should Probably Consider for Your Employees

Gene Marks

I know I’m going to sound old, but—back in the day—employees received a paycheck and two weeks’ vacation. Maybe some healthcare. Usually some retirement, too. But that’s it.

Today, however, things are different. The economy is strong and U.S. unemployment is very low. Good workers are at a premium and small businesses can be at a disadvantage when competing against larger companies with deeper pockets. Not only that, but also there’s a new generation of workers—the millennials—who not only comprise about half of the U.S. workforce, but also appear to have different values and priorities when it comes to balancing work and personal lives. This generation, in survey after survey, wants more flexibility, mobility, independence and time off—in many cases, in lieu of higher compensation.

So, what kinds of benefits should an employer provide that will not only attract good workers but also keep their existing ones happy and motivated? Yes, the usual ones mentioned above are important. But paid time off (PTO) perks are the most attractive and I’ve seen a few ridiculous (and not so ridiculous) plans that companies are offering. Want some examples?

1. Pawternity

A handful of companies have taken maternity and paternity benefits for new parents to such an extreme (Netflix, for example, offers a year off), that you wonder where else is there to go? Oh, right. To the dogs. There’s no other way to describe this than to let it speak for itself: paid time off when you get a new puppy. I know…right?

But this perk has become increasingly popular, particularly with companies that employ dog-lovers. I will admit that getting and then house-training a new puppy can be exhausting, if not a little messy. So why not give your employees a few days away from the job to bond with their new dogs, so that they can return to the office without worrying that when they get home they’ll find a few unexpected presents waiting for them? “We offer maternity and paternity leave and a pet is just another member of the family,” a recruiter for data platform provider Mparticle told Business Insider. “We don’t discriminate just because they aren’t human.”

2. Unsick Days

Firms like Zocdoc, Foursquare, and Greenhouse have joined with others to start a campaign called the Unsick Day that encourages companies to offer a day off for sickness—even when the employee isn’t sick.

The objective is to encourage workers to visit their physicians and dentists for scheduled checkups in order to avoid potential sick days in the future. It sounds a little ridiculous but, then again, we all have busy schedules and many of us prioritize other things than “planning” to be sick, or scheduling regular maintenance visits. And who knows? The right preventative care may save on future health costs as well.

3. Unlimited Vacation Days

Tech companies from GitHub to LinkedIn (and even accounting firms like Grant Thornton) offer unlimited vacation plans (and I’m curious how the accountants at Grant Thornton figure out their vacation liability at the end of the year with this kind of perk).

The benefit has raised eyebrows, and most of the companies I work with laugh at the thought. A growing number of companies are reconsidering the policy because it’s actually making their employees more stressed about how much and when to take their time off. So tread down the unlimited vacation road carefully—it may sound a little too good to be true, mostly because it is.

4. Days Off for Charity

This…is not a ridiculous perk. In fact, many millennials say that they prefer working for a company that is socially conscious and that gives back to their community.

So what better way to demonstrate this than to offer your employees a day or two off to spend working with a charity of their choice? Salesforce.com gives up to six days every year to employees for charitable work and also donates $1,000 to a charity of their choice. I’m not saying your company has to go to such extremes, but it’s not a bad idea, and can certainly differentiate you from the competitor down the street when you’re recruiting workers.

5. Sabbaticals

Also not a ridiculous perk.

Many firms are offering employees up to three months of paid time off every five years or so to do something completely unrelated to work. Avoiding burnout, putting things into perspective, and living a fuller life can make for a better person and a more productive employee. Once you’ve found someone who’s not only good but also is committed to your business, you should consider offering this type of perk to keep them fresh, happy and loyal.

Are these all ridiculous PTO perks? A few—I believe—are a little over the top. C’mon…pawternity?

But, in the end, giving your employees flexibility, balance, and time to enjoy their lives and their families will mean that they are more inclined to stay with your firm and work harder toward your objectives. Happiness really can mean profitability, and if offering a few extra days off a year is what it takes to achieve that goal, then bring on the puppies!

48 Responses to "5 Ridiculous (And Not So Ridiculous) PTO Ideas You Should Probably Consider for Your Employees"
    • Charlene Kennedy | September 20, 2018 at 9:05 am

      My dad worked for a company who after 15 years gave the employees every few years 3 months off with pay. They went out of business. Just sayin’.

      • Hannah Sullivan | September 20, 2018 at 2:50 pm

        Thanks for your feedback, Charlene.

    • Mark Golden | September 20, 2018 at 2:42 pm

      For many years, we have quietly offered our key people unlimited time off. It has allowed such individuals to take extended vacations to Europe and Asia. Surprisingly they end up taking little more time off than the rest of the employees because they are conscientious and don’t want to be unfair to their co-workers. On the other hand, it kept one of my key people around for several years longer as she was prepared to quit her job to take the extended vacation.

      • Hannah Sullivan | September 20, 2018 at 2:53 pm

        Great insight, Mark.

    • Don Grahl | October 1, 2019 at 7:46 pm

      Ideas like this are the reason millennials are the way they are. Cell phones, the internet, e mail always plugged into something who has time to do any work? So because they want it a business owner should be happy and try to provide more so maybe he will get 55% out of his employees instead of 50%. The business and private world are a connected circle. Give the perks, pass the cost along to the customer, and the guy with the 3 month sabbatical is paying a higher price for everything he does on his 3 months off. Bottom line:Show up for work, give 100% and you will stand out and move up the ladder. There really is No Free Lunch.

    • Gary N. Blum, D.D.S., M.S. | October 1, 2019 at 10:20 pm

      The correct terminology is “physicians” and “dentists”. Both are “doctors”.

      • Chloe Silverman | October 2, 2019 at 3:42 pm

        We appreciate you making us aware of this. The correct terminology will be added. Thank you for the comment, Gary!

    • Katie | October 1, 2019 at 10:21 pm

      I am a small business employer and offer PTO bonuses. We are in a sales driven field. First half of the year, staff individually have the ability to earn up to the entire July 4 week off. Second half of the year is a company wide goal. If we make that goal by a certain point, I close the office down for Christmas week. People have used these “free” weeks off and added their own PTO to take longer periods off. I also do quarterly PTO bonus awards where the top two producers earn 8 and 16 hours PTO each. One year the top guy won all four quarter awards. He got an extra 8 days PTO, PLUS a week off July 4, PLUS a week off at Christmas, PLUS he had 3 weeks PTO anyway. So 6.5 weeks PTO. Managers get corresponding PTO bonuses. It’s been a huge hit with staff and it helps me retain my good people.

      Oh, and we also allows dogs at work 🙂

    • cameron larsen | October 1, 2019 at 10:52 pm

      I work 100 hours a week and half my employees earn more than me and care 100% less if that is such a thing. I already feel I work to support this half. Maybe a permanent vacation for them is more realistic

    • Zohari | October 2, 2019 at 2:32 am

      Why should people work at all?
      They should have a vacation during all their life time and spend their time like in the old days hunting and picking.
      isn’t it nicer – less stress – less worries – ….

    • Brian | October 2, 2019 at 6:05 am

      If I thought a person was “key”, and I could afford them taking 3 months off, I think I’d be reevaluating whether they were really a “key” employee.

    • Linda | October 2, 2019 at 8:03 am

      We have a very small dental practice. The administrative assistant, (me) already does the job of 4 people. I am an receptionist, AP/AR, assistant when the assistant needs a day or week or month off, Oncall for staff and patients, scheduler , dental coder and office maintenance.

      If I take a VK I am still oncall. We give the assistant whois part time 2 vacation days .

      Any suggestions ?

    • Cyndi McConnell | October 2, 2019 at 8:46 am

      Great article! I really like the Charity one! The Pawternity and Unlimited Vacations (unless like Mark said – it is done secretly for the ex. such as the one he gave) …..those are a little over the top.

    • Deanne Lock | October 2, 2019 at 8:56 am

      The company I work for seems to hire people without children. I have found even though I take sick time off for my kid now and again, it is scrutinized by my boss, who also has kids and takes plenty of sick time off for them, other less productive workers that have kids have taken off more time than I have for sick kids. My kids don’t get sick often, however I end up getting sick just stressing over whether or not they will get sick, and feel like I cannot go to doc or take care of myself for fear of using my sick time. I even get flack on my evaluations for this. I do work hard and do my best for this agency.

    • Stephanie Franks | October 2, 2019 at 9:13 am

      Our firm employees enjoy a sabbatical every 5 years with a month off with pay. We also have a very loose vacation / sick policy….and our wellness coordinator helps our staff with planning “unsick” days…
      These are all great ways to provide employees with flexibility!

      • Chloe Silverman | October 2, 2019 at 3:29 pm

        Thank you for the comment, Stephanie!

    • Bret Pritchett | October 2, 2019 at 9:55 am

      My company, GAVX, sells videoconference equipment to businesses. Turns out that due to vacations in the Summer, businesses buy less videoconferencing equipment in the Summer so there is less for our employees to do. A local church took up a mission to provide lunches to school age children during the Summer because during the school year the school feeds them a solid lunch every day but during the Summer, the children go many days without a lunch. Worse yet is that for some, that school lunch was the only solid meal they ever receive. I offered my employees the opportunity to be a part of this program, one day per week, for the Summer. It was just 2 hours away from work per week. They would really be working, serving children lunches, at a park. Guess what? Everyone wanted to do it. They loved it. They looked forward to it and felt good being involved. They felt good that their company was involved. I felt good about my company being involved too. If you find an opportunity which fits, like this did, I recommend it.

    • Bruce Kimmel | October 2, 2019 at 9:57 am

      We track hours worked at our company. Doesn’t matter to us how the hours are worked as long as goals are met and people communicate effectively about plans for time out of the office. This means an employee has the ultimate flexibility to work how and when they want.

    • Joanna Puritz | October 2, 2019 at 10:15 am

      I’m a small business with 4 full time employees and 2 part time employees. All outstanding!
      We moved 2 years ago to retail space and sales are up 20%. 1. After year “1”I gave the full timers company paid health and dental.
      2. I gave part timers a small raise plus paid Holidays. 3. Friday lunches in house
      Since the inception of the company in 2004 our vacation policy: 2 weeks years 1-4, 3 weeks vacation 5+.
      I treat my staff with respect and heaps of praise. I can’t begin to tell you the benefits my clients and I receive.

    • Cynthia | October 2, 2019 at 10:27 am

      My employer gives us “bonus” days off every year. We sit together and look at the calendar for the upcoming year and determine what days will be bonus days. Because she gives us all federal holidays off (she and I are former bank employees), we often end up with bonus days that work out so that we have long weekends off. This does not include the mental health days she will give us just because, or the days that she has us leave early because it is nice out or because it is a lazy rainy day. When we are in the office, everyone works very hard without any micromanaging needed.

    • Denise Brown | October 2, 2019 at 10:34 am

      First of all thank you Small Biz. I love reading the articles. They are short and sweet!

      We are a small restaurant so we can’t afford several weeks of paid time off. But what we do offer are small incentives that we’ve found make our employees feel appreciated. For instance, our full time employees receive one week paid vacation. This is a big plus because our FT employees are wait staff. I pay minimum wage for 40 hours, which they love!

      We decorate the restaurant for all the key holidays and our staff gets into it as well. We face paint on Dia De Los Muertos, we go to Michael Kors at the outlet mall for Black Friday, we adopt families at Christmas and fill up the van to deliver the gifts, we support the local food bank and we pay for the education of our employees whether it’s finishing HS with online classes or a college degree.

      We also top it off with occasional party bus excursions, pedicures at the local nail salon or movie nights and yearly team outings for fun and fellowship.

      These may sound silly but they don’t cost a lot of money and our staff looks forward to them, especially the students and millennials.

      Have a blessed week everyone!

      • Chloe Silverman | October 2, 2019 at 3:26 pm

        Thank you for the comment, Denise! We appreciate your feedback.

    • Erin | October 2, 2019 at 10:55 am

      “A handful of companies have taken maternity and paternity benefits for new parents to such an extreme (Netflix, for example, offers a year off), that you wonder where else is there to go?”
      I realize that this comment was a segway for a discussion of “pawternity” leave–&, props to the author, that’s hilarious– but this statement prompts further discussion on its own.

      So, hmm, how about all US companies being required to offer paid parental leave on any level at all, and being required to do so regardless of established employment or the employing company’s size?

      Part of the current problem with paternity and maternity leave policies in US business is that a year (and sometimes any paid parental leave at all) is considered “such an extreme”. Perhaps it could have been considered an extreme from a very sexist sort of perspective, when the majority of mothers didn’t work outside the home, but that’s a situation from the distant past and not the average US parenting situation today.

      Parents usually need to consider whether maintaining a job (even one they enjoy) plus daycare is worth the material costs to them and potential developmental impact on their children, vs. finding a new job that supports new families better and doesn’t view family time as a threat to job productivity.

      Companies that offer benefits that facilitate employee retention during the first year of parenthood stand out from the rest, and this approach encourages positive working relationships and employee trust. It’s commonsense that you’re probably going to want to do your best work for an employer who may have demanding standards BUT ALSO stays in touch with his/her employees’ lives & strives for fair workplace practices. I’m not yet a parent, but when/if I am, I’ll need to have higher standards for my employers in this arena than I do at present.

      While it’s true that many small businesses either cannot afford to offer this as a benefit or will not choose to prioritize it, that doesn’t make the benefit “extreme”. Instead it means that parental leave may be an area where a small company cannot compete with companies that have better resources and/or choose to offer the benefit.

    • Jacalyn McGeehan | October 2, 2019 at 11:30 am

      We rolled out an Unlimited PTO plan this year and so far it seems to be working well. People are taking time off but not excessively so and are staying home when sick instead of trying to work through their sickness and getting the rest of the office sick.

      • Chloe Silverman | October 2, 2019 at 3:12 pm

        Thank you for sharing your experience, Jacalyn!

    • Nanci L | October 2, 2019 at 11:48 am

      All these perks sound great in theory and may work for a big company but smaller businesses cannot offer these perks. Running a small business is challenging especially with the millennial mentality. With fewer employees, it would be impossible to allow employees to take that many days off. Back in the day, you took a job and worked hard in order to get more pay and perks. I think this old school mentality was a lot more effective in the workplace. I think we need to somehow get millennials to understand this concept.Unfortunately , millennials were raised with too much handed to them and were not taught about a work ethic. The age of computers, cell phones, and social media have actually had a negative effect in the workplace. Less work is being done because employees are easily distracted with all this technology. Many small businesses are closing as a result and in the end we are all going to suffer if we dont change the way we work. Very sad…..

    • Mike Nader | October 2, 2019 at 11:57 am

      So where are the “Not So Ridiculous” ideas?
      Regular companies cannot afford to give its employees unlimited vacation time, 3-month Sabbaticals, Pawternity, etc. If your company can do this, then you have a LOT of resources, your employees are expendable, and you do not care much about your bottom line.

      • Chloe Silverman | October 2, 2019 at 3:08 pm

        We appreciate your feedback, Mike. Thank you for the comment!

    • J M | October 2, 2019 at 11:57 am

      Only offering specific benefits to particular employees without clear policy seems ripe for discrimination lawsuits. Be careful how you implement this.

      • Chloe Silverman | October 2, 2019 at 3:08 pm

        Thank you for the feedback!

    • Audra Buchanan | October 2, 2019 at 12:27 pm

      I like the idea of pawternity. For those of us who don’t plan on having kids, but have pets…they ARE our kids. Why should we not get that same type of benefit. I’m sure it sounds ridiculous to people with kids, but hey, to each his own. Plus we probably miss fewer days having to take care of sick kids.

      • Chloe Silverman | October 2, 2019 at 3:07 pm

        So glad you enjoyed this article! Thanks for the comment, Audra!

    • Suzanne Wade | October 2, 2019 at 2:21 pm

      Instead of pawternity, what about offering personal time to use for veterinary appointments?

    • Cynthia Matteson | October 2, 2019 at 3:16 pm

      I am not a millenial at 54 but sure do appreciate the perks our law firm offers our staff and no one takes advantage of it and everyone is a very hard and dedicated worker. Bonus days off and mental health days, nice weather afternoons off, bad weather afternoons off. Our employer even says thank you to each of us as we leave for the day. She thanks us for coming to work as well as the good work we do. When you have an employer that treats you this well, it would be hard to be a bad employee.

    • Julie | October 2, 2019 at 3:25 pm

      I always enjoy these articles, ideas and comments but I can certainly say that most of these ideas are out of reach for the small business owner. Not to mention the extra workload it causes for those who don’t take extra time off.

      • Chloe Silverman | October 2, 2019 at 3:31 pm

        Thank you for the feedback, Julie!

    • Amanda J | October 2, 2019 at 3:46 pm

      I am a millennial and do the HR for my company. I have explored several options and believe these do not work for small companies. I’m also really curious as to where these surveys are done. Because all of my friends that are my age, would rather have a higher pay than these “perks” due to our student loan debt. I work 60 hour weeks and do my best not to do any work over the weekend. People in other generations, also need to realize that Gen Z’s have hit the workforce and are pushing for these things, because a lot of them don’t have the extreme student loan debt that us older millennials have, since their parents have been able able to pay for it.

      Some ideas for small companies when it comes to PTO would be to add a birthday PTO day. This doesn’t come out of your PTO bank and you can use it any day of the month your birthday falls on.

      I work for a fin-tech company, so some holidays are difficult to give everyone off, due to bank holiday expectations. Also, expectations of immediate satisfaction of having a program fixed. So I am working on having “floating” holidays. This is when you know someone worked on a holiday (the company is salary and exempt, so overtime is not a problem), so they are able to take a day off and not come out of their PTO bank. Also, these cannot be accumulated to be rolled over to the next year.

      There are a lot better PTO options, for businesses, especially smaller ones. Do some research, there is a ton of information out there and it’s not too difficult to get it to fit to your company’s needs/ wants/ style. I also do agree paw-ternity is a little silly. I also don’t have kids, don’t plan to have my own kids, and love my pets. Just saying.

    • Kelley | October 2, 2019 at 5:00 pm

      These perks sound wonderful….but not in the working world. Some small business cannot afford to allow people that much paid time off. Maturity leave..sorry I don’t agree with giving new mothers/fathers that much time off, not do I agree with paid time off. Seems to me you need to choose your priorities. I was taught if you want something you work for it. Seems some generations want everything handed to them.

    • Anne Mayne | October 2, 2019 at 6:09 pm

      We have been testing the unlimited vacation for the past three quarters. Having a company of Millennials, it is not floating the same way as if the company were an even mix of Boomers, Gen-Xers and Millennials. We have been finding that people are taking off more time than working. Sometimes people are leaving for a month at a time, working random hours that do not align with normal business hours, etc. At times stifling business.

      Things to consider if developing a program like this.

      • Chloe Silverman | October 3, 2019 at 8:35 am

        Thank you for your insights Anne!

    • Teri | October 2, 2019 at 9:32 pm

      I work for wonderful employers and being old fashion I believe all we achieve must be earned. In 2018 during a 3-week medical scare, my boss took the time to come see me in the hospital and his uplifting encouragement to ensure I was not concerned about my pay while recovering, and, the willingness to allow me to slowly get back into work along with openness to allow others to help me in the process, left me eternally grateful beyond words.

      I have always been a loyal employee anywhere I worked but this employers’ kindness increased my loyalty to a much higher level. I feel greatly privileged, blessed and take very seriously the great responsibility of the privilege. To God be the Glory for the wonderful employers that time the time to recognize the value in their employees. I will say that anything without some border, such as unlimited vacation is extreme and can cause complications if not properly managed. It is important to be accountable, responsible and wise in decision making in business and otherwise.

    • Anne Mayne | October 3, 2019 at 8:56 am

      I appreciate everyone’s feedback and the diversity in responses. It always help to see what other people are doing that works, doesn’t work and may need to be tweaked. I think that in a well blended company of generations that this could work but I will leave that for someone at a well blended company to provide feedback.

      Just for some of the Millennials who responded. GenXers and late Boomers also suffered through paying off their student loans. And most have suffered through at a rate of 8.25% or higher. Some are just finishing paying off that debt and some are still going.The cost of higher education is not a generational problem. Also the fact that women typically make less than men makes the problem a heavier burden on women. Considering that women do not get to go to school for a reduced rate.

    • Cynthia | October 3, 2019 at 10:40 am

      As a GenXer at 54 years old, with a millennial 26 year old, I must say that the behavior and/or attitude of any millennial was taught and instilled in them by the GenXer parent that raised them.

    • Chris Wright | October 4, 2019 at 9:37 am

      I would like to see an article published which discusses two main topics:

      2. Non-financial compensation elements that work for privately owned small business.

      Comment: Most of the suggestions in this article may be considered for companies with substantially deeper pockets, but not for Mom-and-Pop types of operations. We are challenged to offer even a small stipend towards health insurance, because unfortunately, providing health care as a benefit is unaffordable.

      2. I would be very interested in compensation and incentive strategies aimed at part timers. Our business needs the flexibility to adjust workforce utilization on a constant basis. Hence the majority of our employees are not full time. They are however, qualified and trained ($$$) and we want to minimize turnover. Pay is relatively competitive. Other ideas would be welcomed.

      • Chloe Silverman | October 4, 2019 at 11:32 am

        Thank you for these great suggestions! We will certainly take these into account when writing new articles.

    • Joanna Puritz | October 4, 2019 at 12:18 pm

      Part-timers: I suggest that you include them in on company picnics, Friday lunches or any activity that make them feel part of the company.

    • Rico Cruz | October 4, 2019 at 2:13 pm

      Hi. I, too, enjoy these articles as they allow us to see what other businesses are doing that work (or don’t work).
      We, too, are a small business so we work on compensations and “adjustments” that fit the employee. I have two worker that have the “commute from h-e-double hockey sticks”, so when I see on the app that they are stuck in traffic, I will still show them in at opening time.
      We also give our folks time to take care of personal business w/o them having to dip into personal time off. Of course, this doesn’t happen everyday, but if their child is sick or has to leave school early, we will work with them.
      Also, which I’m sure most others do too, when we receive a bonus from our co’s, we share it with our office folks on down to data entry. Without ALL of them, we don’t function.
      These aren’t ground shaking steps, but we really don’t have a turnover of employees, so the love runs deep
      <

    • Dwight Gaal | October 8, 2019 at 4:32 pm

      Guess I’m just too old school. To my way of thinking, one receives a day’s pay for a day’s work. The cost of excessive freebies must be picked up by someone and that someone is the customer. Perhaps tech giants and financial institutions can jack their charges to the hilt so as to cover such luxuries. Government can just keep raising the tax bar on us so as to provide ridiculous legacy perks, but at some point, one has to ask, “Where does it all end?” When is enough, enough? Millennials might want more flexibility, more time off…great stuff, if you can get it. From where I sit, it appears that the real problem is that millennials are accustomed to getting what they want. Whether its in the best interest of the employer or those the employer serves, to them, is irrelevant. Again, I’m old school, but I was taught that one doesn’t always get to have things their way. There are hard realities everyone must face when dealing with the real world. Sorry, but most of these ideas sound extremely pie-in-the-sky to me and would never fly in the service industry in which I am engaged.

Leave a Reply

Disclaimer: Comments are subject to moderation and removal without cause or justification and may take up to 24 hours to be seen in comments. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * Please do not include personal policy information; if you have questions or concerns regarding your policy with The Hartford, please log into your account or you can speak directly to a Customer Service Representative.