Unlimited Vacation

The Unlimited Vacation Policy

Some companies have stopped defining how many days in the year employees can go on a vacation.

Ever since people have worked away from the office, the line between work time and free time has started to blur. When an employee books a vacation from her office desk, should that be considered as the first hour of her vacation time? And when the same person phones into an important meeting from her holiday resort, does that count as two missed hours of vacation? How about writing a report while babysitting the neighbors’ kids? How about walking the dog after lunch while discussing a project with a team member?

Smart organizations would rather not specify in detail what is and what is not allowed during which times of the day, as long as people do enough useful work and take enough time off. Plenty of studies have found that time away from work, with frequent vacations, improves people’s performance, and lowers their stress levels, which increases the quality of their output when they do work.

For this reason, companies such as The Motley Fool, Netflix, HubSpot, Evernote, and Zynga have stopped defining how many hours per day people should work and how many days in the year they can go on a vacation. The benefits of such an unlimited vacation policy are, among others, better morale, increased productivity, higher retention, and higher engagement. And no tiresome discussions about banking vacation days, half days, bonus days, and other nonsense.

Surprisingly enough, with an unlimited number of vacation days and without any guidance on how much vacation per year is reasonable, it appears some people actually take less time off than they should. The reasons mentioned most often are not wanting to be qualified as a “slacker”, not having the experience or courage to say “No” to extra work, and not being able to choose (also called “choice overload”). Taking into account these undesirable side-effects of an unlimited vacation policy some companies are strongly suggesting a minimum amount of vacation per employee, but no maximum. Assuming that we can properly address these side-effects, the responsibility for one’s own free time sounds to me like a great step toward a more trust-driven work environment of creative networkers in the 21st century.

Feedback WrapThis text is part of the article Feedback Wrap, which is a chapter in the Management Workout book. It is also the last chapter that will be available publicly. Do you want to receive the last few chapters for free? Subscribe to the mailing list!

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  • Алексей Пикулев

    Great idea! Let’s try it!

  • http://www.benlinders.com Ben Linders

    An unlimited vacation policy can backfire as you mentioned. I think it only works when people trust and support each other. Which includes giving people room to find their own work/free-time balance.

  • http://www.agilecoach.ca Jason Little

    I think early going some people may abuse the policy but long-term, it’s a fantastic idea. Once organizational leaders start treating employees like responsible adults instead of like children, I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results!

  • andrefaria

    Unfortunately, in countries like Brazil, we have strict rules (in law) for everything. Every employee has 30 vacations days per year. Her/She can sell 10 days of their vacation to the company if they want. And he/she receives a full salary plus 1/3 of the salary in the vacation month.

  • gchapiewski

    I have a couple friends from Evernote and Netflix that say this makes taking vacations uncomfortable for a lot of people, including them, and they don’t like it. And it seems most people they know there feel that way. Like you said, it seems that people tend to take less time off, but apparently they also get less happy. And maybe at the end of the day this is just contributing to burnout. I’d rather make people feel good about taking time off and letting them know they have their personal time in favor of their contribution.

    • jurgenappelo

      Thanks, great insights!

  • artemmarchenko

    Interestingly in my current workplace I can have say, a week of remote work every couple of months, adding few vacation days makes a good travel package that I’d love to use and tried a couple of times, but.. unlimited or just long vacation also means increased travel costs. So if your vacations are mostly about travels, like mine, suddenly you can end up in a situation when you cannot afford the unlimited vacation. That is unless you think unlimited travel so important, that you need to adjust your job.

    • jurgenappelo

      A vacation does not imply travel. In fact, I travel so much (for work) than whenever I enjoy a vacation I’d rather stay home.

      • artemmarchenko

        Sure that’s something about me personally. I like traveling whenever I have something that feels like vacation and indeed I needed it less, when used to travel more for work and conferences 🙂

        Similar things, however, possibly hold true for the others. Somehow when you are present at the office physically, it tends to add money to your bank account while leaves you less time to spend them. Vacation period tends to be the other way around. Oh well, I guess it does call for work-life integration over the work-life balance as you say.

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