The Break Room: Benefits Translation Guide

So you’ve landed a job with unlimited PTO …

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This satirical column is part of our series The Break Room. Each column takes a humorous look at an aspect of the workplace. All the characters and scenes are fictional.

So, you’ve landed a job at a “top company” with “cutting edge” benefits as their new Social Media Mercenary.

Congratulations! Or as grandma would say, “I guess you’re some kind of big shot now.”

In order to attract top talent (like yourself) companies have had to up their benefits game in a big way. You may have seen perks like “unlimited paid time off (PTO),” and “flexible schedule,” included in your offer letter. And, like many people, you may wonder, “What exactly does that mean?”

Well, you’re not alone. In fact, these benefits can mean different things to different companies, and even to different people within the same company. For instance, you and your new boss. Luckily, we’ve put together this handy translation guide to help you navigate these somewhat nebulous policies.

Unlimited PTO

What you think it means: Wow! That’s at least 4 weeks of vacation, plus sick days! Since your previous job already gave you 3 weeks, unlimited PTO should mean at least 1 more.

What your boss thinks: Unlimited PTO is a contest to see who can take the least PTO. Kind of like golf.

What you think: That is one contest you do not mind losing. After all, what good is unlimited PTO if it isn’t more than the limited PTO you had in your previous role? Having made this choice, it should be no big deal because why have an unlimited PTO policy if taking that PTO was going to be a big deal?

What your boss thinks: It is a big deal. But, you are (technically) correct. So, all your PTO requests will be approved, albeit with increasingly passive-aggressive remarks during team meetings (“Okay, looking ahead to next week, Dan is going to be out … again … so we’ll need coverage there.”)

Flexible schedule

What you think it means: Wow! This is great. I can drop my kids off at school, get an early jump on the day, and then only have to keep them in the aftercare program until 4 each day!

What your boss thinks it means: You have kids? As in, offspring? They go to school when? Well, most of our team gets in around 10am — I mean traffic, you know? What a nightmare. So, your plan is fine as long as we don’t have any team meetings, which usually happen any time between 2:30 and 7 p.m. and often without much advance notice. So you’ll need a backup childcare option roughly … every day.

What you think: Well, at least I can go get my tires rotated or schedule my physical for a normal time of day.

What your boss thinks: You’ll be able to join a Zoom meeting from the waiting room at the doctor’s office, and continue it throughout your exam. Your doctor is a professional — she’ll understand. What’s that? HIPAA violation? No, no that only applies to strangers. We’re your team. 

What you end up thinking: This team is further up my you-know-what than my doc.

There you have it. As these generous new benefits become more and more common, you’ll likely need to navigate them at some point in your career. Now that you know what they mean, you can either ignore them completely and establish yourself as a real go-getter, or take full advantage of them and endure the barely disguised ire of your managers and peers. The choice is all yours!

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