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Why MUD\WTR Implemented a 'Minimum Time Off' Policy Instead of 'Unlimited PTO'

The journey to better employee wellness

Rae Repanshek

Last year I was working as a marketer at a well-known tech company and not loving it. It was the most micro-managey place I’d ever worked, and despite our “unlimited PTO” policy, I couldn’t request a single day off without getting pushback, flak or some sort of vague warning. My well-being was suffering. I needed to get out of there—and fast.

I spent every night and weekend sifting through countless job postings for any signs that they would offer the ever-illusive “work-life balance” I heard so much about. I wanted to work from home, during my most productive hours and have paid time off that I could actually use. 

I had experience with these types of benefits used more as a dangling carrot to get me in the door than anything the company actually believed in, so I was searching for authenticity. I didn’t want to wind up in another workplace that subscribed to toxic “hustle culture.”

Then I Discovered MUD\WTR

I was familiar with MUD\WTR because I was a customer for years before I became an employee. (I’ll take my :rise Cacao with oat milk, a little honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon, please and thank you.) So you can imagine my excitement when I found out MUD\WTR was hiring a copywriter and offering the most comprehensive benefits package I’ve ever seen. 

And now that I’m on the team, I can tell you my team members actually care about my well-being. It’s the real deal. Not only that, but time off is sacred to all of us. I feel proud when my team members rest and enjoy life outside of work—and they reciprocate when I’m out of the office. 

Together, we’re on a mission to create healthy minds through healthy habits. It’s something we all take seriously—in every product and piece of content we create, as well as how we embody this mission to mindfully build our company culture. 

That is why, when the leadership team found out that employees weren’t utilizing the unlimited PTO policy to its fullest, they implemented a minimum time off policy that includes every other Friday off, a summer break, winter break and paid holidays, on top of unlimited PTO.  

Unlimited PTO Policies Aren’t Perfect

Based on my experience at other companies, unlimited PTO policies can become “wellness washing,” in which they appear to prioritize employee wellness but still have a culture that makes it hard to actually use vacation time. In those scenarios, employees can wind up taking less time off than if they had more traditional policies. 

According to Forbes, the average American takes 17 PTO days a year, while workers with unlimited PTO take only 10 days off. At MUD\WTR, some people didn’t feel they could fully step away from their roles, like Community Manager Britney Haddad. 

"People are engaging with our community 24/7. There's no pause button I can hit as I leave for vacation," she said. "Our unlimited time off policy had its benefits but because of the constant demands of our community, it didn't feel like it was something I could fully utilize." With our new minimum time off policy, Haddad is planning on combining mandatory paid time off and remote work flexibility to take a month-long Italian holiday.

It’s Important to Take Time to Rest and Recover

Before implementing a minimum time off policy, folks weren’t taking much time off. Despite encouraging the team to take at least four weeks of vacation per year, MUD\WTR’s Head of People Ops Becky Clark found that the average remained at 10 days. Some people took a lot—up to six weeks—while others took hardly any. 

MUD\WTR Founder and CEO Shane Heath was quick to support the idea when People Ops proposed a new policy. He’s a big advocate for taking time off and wanted everyone to feel like they could take a vacation when needed. 

“Our success is determined by our ability to cultivate and execute great ideas,” said Heath on why time off is so important. “I believe that in order to do our best work, we have to be our best selves. In order to be our best selves, we have to have time to rest, recover and reflect.”

MUD\WTR’s New Minimum Time Off Policy

We launched our new minimum time off policy at the beginning of the year. 

“We have a ‘measure, test, improve’ approach to everything we do at MUD\WTR, including our workplace wellness policies,” said Heath. “This empowered People Ops to use data and feedback to improve the policy and try something new.”

Between every other Friday off, holidays, a summer break and a winter break, MUD\WTR is now closed 46 days a year “so we can ensure our team is able to rest,” explains Clark. On top of that, employees still have unlimited vacation days.

Is this new policy working? It’s still too early to tell, but more than one-third of our team is using PTO this month, which Clark celebrates as a big win. I certainly appreciate the time to rest, recover and live a full life outside of work. In my experience at MUD\WTR, employees are encouraged to take a lot of time off in addition to the minimum. It’s the balance I was searching for, and I’m so glad I found it. 

Rae Repanshek is MUD\WTR's copywriter.

Read More: How to Work Vacation Joy Into Daily Life

Read More: Wall-Gazing and Other Workday Breaks You Should Be Taking

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