It’s Called “PERSONAL Time Off” for a Reason

The same week I launched “We Lean OUT”, I had a very discouraging conversation with a coworker. It was Tuesday, January 9th so the office was a buzz with “Happy New Year!” as everyone gradually returned from weeks off of work, swapping stories about their Hawaiian vacations and Mexican cruises. Except for me. I had been there every day because I was leading a big project that had gone live over the holidays.

This coworker and I were talking about all the excellent feedback we’d been receiving on this particular project, including emails from our CFO saying what a great job the team had been doing. Near the end of the conversation, I mentioned I’d be out of the office for a few hours later that week for a doctor appointment and an oil change I had to drive quite a ways to the dealership for. My coworker’s mood quickly changed and I could tell she was a bit uncomfortable with whatever she was about to say. “You really should schedule personal appointments during off-work time…”

Riding on the tails of a publicly successful project plus the fact I had just worked through the holidays when everyone else was on vacation, I didn’t think twice about taking a few hours off to handle some personal business. But there it was… “You really should schedule personal appointments during off-work time.”

Really?!? What is “off-work time” anyway? These days, with technology and the global 24-7 nature of our world, people are working all hours of the day, all days of the week. For many, this means working around the clock. For me it means I have flexibility and freedom around when and where I get my work done.

My forward-thinking company has a “work smarter” policy (meaning we work when and where we need to, as long as our work gets done) and unlimited PTO that isn’t formally requested, approved or tracked. And the work environment supports general flexibility. I have co-workers who take off for a bike ride in the middle of the work day, most will take an hour or so for lunch, and employees are encouraged to make use of our company gym during work hours. And these are all super professional, well-rounded people.

But I had apparently crossed some invisible boundary of what is acceptable use of flexible time and PTO.

Bike rides, good. Oil changes, bad.

I don’t take two week vacations to Hawaii or Mexican cruises. No, my PTO and flex time are used for doctor appointments, running errands, volunteering in my kids’ classrooms and even a day in early December to put up all my Christmas decorations! For a while I even took “vacation” the last Friday of every month so that I could properly clean my house (something I’ve since outsourced to professionals…). As a mother of three children under the age of seven, there is no such thing as “off-work time”. It’s creative use of my PTO and a flexible work schedule that allows me to get things done in my personal life and keep my sanity!

So why the double standard?

Why do we admire the employee who takes a bike ride during his lunch hour yet we reprimand the exhausted working mom who has to use her PTO to clean her house?

Why do we chastise the working mom simply because she’s being resourceful with her time in order to take care of her work and her family in the best way she can? Hell, we should be giving her extra time off so she can somehow take an actual vacation!

I don’t know how to change people’s perception and eliminate this double standard. But I will continue to do what’s best for my family (and my own sanity) by leveraging the benefits I’ve been given by my progressive company to manage my own time how I see fit. And I can also tell you that I no longer give any details when I inform people of my planned time off, other than the subject “Monica PTO” on my 3 hour calendar block. Because it’s no one else’s business what I use my PTO for. It’s called “Personal Time Off” for a reason. And they can just assume I’m on a 3 hour vacation in Hawaii.

Comment below! What working-parent responsibilities do you handle by creatively using PTO or a flexible work environment? Have you encountered any judgment about how you use your PTO? What ways have you found to address it? We want to hear your thoughts!

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