Could Unlimited Vacation Time Improve Your Productivity?

Mar 11, 2014
5 Min Read

You might have read recently about companies like Netflix and Evernote switching to unlimited vacation time policies. Under these policies, instead of getting a set number of paid days off each year, employees are allowed to take as much time off as they’d like, as long as their work is still getting done and things are covered while they’re away.

The argument in favor of this move is, of course, that giving employees this kind of freedom will help attract and retain great people – after all, who wouldn’t love the idea of unlimited vacation time? The thinking is also that people are more productive when they have ample time away and don’t feel like their company is nickeling-and-diming them on time off. After all, the thinking goes, in today’s world, employees are often “on” when they’re off the clock – they’re answering emails on the weekends, thinking about work on their commute, and coming up with brilliant ideas while they lay on the beach. So the divide between time at work and time away has gotten fuzzier anyway.

In reality, though, there are some real drawbacks to unlimited vacation policies. Not insurmountable ones – but drawbacks that aren’t always obviously at first look.

For one thing, unlimited vacation requires managers to truly manage their teams. If an employee is abusing the benefit, you need to know that their manager will address it effectively. These programs can implode if managers aren’t assertive enough to speak up when an employee isn’t meeting their goals and is taking too much time off.

What’s more, unlimited vacation requires good employees. You’ll be switching to a policy that treats people like adults and trusts that they can manage their own workload and time away and still perform at a high level. Obviously, you want this kind of team anyway, but if you don’t have one yet, you’re going to need to make some changes before the policy works well.

And perhaps surprisingly, unlimited vacation can result in people taking less vacation time. One common unforeseen consequence of this switch can be that people end up feeling that they should take less time off than before. Because people aren’t told “you get X days per year,” they often have no idea what’s really okay to take -- and as a result end up taking less time off because they don’t want to be seen as slackers. A particularly machiavellian manager might think that this is a good thing for productivity, but it’s bad for morale – and ultimately for productivity too, because productivity goes up when you have employees who are rested and refreshed, not burned out.

But these drawbacks aside, unlimited time off has some huge advantages too: treating employees like responsible adults, freeing people up to have real flexibility in their schedules rather than just paying lip service to the concept, and (perhaps on the more mundane side) simplifying the administration and tracking of benefits. Unlimited vacation policies aren’t for every employer, but they can work successfully in the right environment.

What do you think? Could your workplace handle an unlimited time off system?

Check out this handy little vacation schedule app in QuickBase.

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