Unlimited Vacations: Pipe Dream or Reality

by Michael Haberman on August 9, 2011 · 0 comments


Here in the Atlanta area summer is over. At least for school kids and their families. The opportunities for vacations are over with because schools are back in session. And because of the shorter summer and the economy many families did not take a vacation, at least not the “travel away” kind of vacation. That is a shame because there is value in vacations as I have written before in Summer Arrives: The Value of Vacations. Some companies are experimenting with the idea of unlimited vacation time because they recognize the value of this time off. For some this is considered a “pipe dream” but for others this has become a reality.

The last couple of summers there has been some attention paid to companies who now offer their employees unlimited vacation. The big leader in this appears to be Netflix as well as Motely Fools and some other high tech firms. The commonality appears to be large populations of white collar workers. Some of the companies are also ROWE companies. According to SHRM about 2% of companies offer this type of vacation benefit.

I was reminded of this by listening to a couple of NPR stories, Unlimited Vacation Time Not a Dream for Some and Take a Vacation Any Time Your Want.  There was also an article in the WSJ Unlimited Vacation Time, But Can You Take It? I personally think it is a great idea. But there are some perceived problems with it. These include:

  • First, we have a culture in the U.S. that seems to discourage taking time off. People have suspicions about having extra time off.
  • In a down economy employees are loath to take time away from work believing that they will be perceived as being unnecessary and thus exependable.
  • It seems it would only work for certain kinds of positions.
  • Because few employers cross-train workers to pick  up each other’s duties, many employees dread returning from vacation to huge stacks of e-mail and unfinished work. (I am personally acquainted with this one, as I am sure many of you are.)

Most of the companies that have instituted the policy however, find that it works pretty well. Most people take 4 to 5 weeks of vacation. They make sure that people are prepared to take on some of their work or they make sure they have accomplished their production goals. Most people will spend time during vacation reviewing email to keep in touch. So it certainly appears that it can work. However, the policy needs to be well written and applied consistently.

The one thing I have not really been able to determine is if any of these companies apply this to n0n-exempt workers or how you might apply this in a situation such as a call center where work is conducted 24/7. If you know anyone with this policy forward this post on to them and ask them to comment.

Now if I can only work toward The 4 Hour Workweek. Vacation for me is a stack of books, a sandy beach, a cool drink, an occasional crossword puzzle, sun on my skin and pleasant company.

Disclaimer: That is NOT me in the picture!

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