Why Unlimited Vacations Work – but Not for Everyone
It’s impossible to understand unlimited vacation policies without taking into account human psychology, workplace dynamics and various management styles.
Here are the three golden rules for understanding unlimited vacations:ambiguity is never a good thing
And that’s precisely why some employers are worried about workers abusing unlimited vacation policies, even though the opposite may actually be true.
Since we are freedom-loving people here in the US, we don’t like to tell employees what to do. So there’s no law on how much vacations you should take (or maternity leave to use up, but I digress). The responsibility, and the repercussions for these decisions rests on the shoulders of employers.
With the work-life balance remaining a hot topic, many companies are busy thinking up new ways to attract and retain the best possible employees. While unlimited vacations remain an important part of that, sometimes you may need to ask yourself: how much is too much? Would anyone get reprimanded for taking five, six, eight weeks in a year?bureocracy is not a bad word
Why do many people take fewer vacations than required? In every workplace environment, bureaucracy is something that constraints yet protects us at the same time. If the rules specify that one has to do something a certain way – a benchmark (or a boundary) is established where none existed before.
Tracking time off is much the same – when you don’t track, it’s difficult to know who is taking how much time off. And without any rules to constrain you, you become unsure and even disillusioned when it comes to getting what you’re entitled to. So the discussion about how much time off you should be taking gets more fraught.track to stay informed, not to control
In the past, when people stood on the assembly line from 9 to 5, paying for time clocked in was the only way to go. As the service-based economy took over, this thinking still prevailed. Now with advances in technology people increasingly work whenever and wherever they are.
We’re now living in a participation, data, and time-sharing economy. It’s easier than ever to measure and pay based on what someone produces. When it comes to time off, we’re still clinging to that archaic way of thinking where time equals money.
By clocking vacation time the way they do office time, employers are essentially saying “I don’t trust you to complete this work and/or manage your time wisely, so you can only take X amount of vacation days a year.” This sort of messaging can negatively affect the overall workplace culture, which is more difficult to put a price on.
How we address this at our company
Vacation time is strongly tied to culture, and every company has their own. Our culture makes an unlimited vacation policy a big plus, but it’s important to realize that unlimited vacations can also be used to create an environment where people aren’t sure what the expectations around vacation are.
Here are some concepts we’ve ironed out before unleashing our vacation policy:
1. We trust each other
A business should operate like a well-oiled machine, moving forward even if some of the cogs are missing. First of all, your team must be understanding and capable. If you leave for a month, would they be able to cope? Most importantly, will they be able to make important decisions without having you on speed-dial?
2. We work vacations into the road map
Holidays and sick days tend to throw everyone off guard, particularly when an important deadline is coming up. We came to a realization that we shouldn’t treat employee vacations any different. We always budget and alter road maps accordingly once we know someone in the company will be taking any significant time off – sometimes even last minute.
3. We have a culture that promotes vacations
One of the things that guilt employees into not taking enough vacations is that “there is so much work to do”. We learned that work will always be there tomorrow (and in far greater amounts), so it makes no logical sense to get everything finished today. Besides, should all the work be finished, you won’t have anything to do tomorrow! And if your business is running out of work chances are you’re on your way out, too.
4. We make sure everyone takes enough time off
When a company finally does implement an unlimited vacation policy, the question that follows is how much others are taking off. That’s when a monitoring mechanism (such as a calendar or a worksheet) is needed. The purpose isn’t to keeping track of who’s doing what but to ensure everyone is taking enough time off – so that everyone stays focused, productive, and well rested.
Nothing is always black and white
Is offering an unlimited vacation policy the right move for you? Ultimately, there’s no right answer. Even if that answer is no, it’s important to revisit the question and periodically ask yourself if it’s indeed something that can improve workplace productivity.
You may also want to consider a compromise – offering a “minimum plus” vacation policy. Instead of team members worrying about taking too much time off, they’ll have minimum vacation days plus an unlimited resource for everyone to draw from, guilt-free. Instead of having a “race to the bottom”, you’ll be forging ahead towards a happy and fulfilling workplace.