In today’s growingly flexible working world, companies are constantly looking to find the best ways to meet the work-life balance needs of their employees. While the push towards flexible work is strong and necessary, society is quickly finding that not all flex solutions are created equal.
One of the most common types of flexible work is the “unlimited vacation,” but it’s a trend that is quickly losing favor for many employees and companies. For example, Kickstarter ended their unlimited vacation policy when they discovered that their employees were taking significantly less time off with unlimited vacation than with the traditional fixed vacation structure.
But what’s the problem with unlimited vacation? And more importantly, what’s the solution?
What Is Unlimited Vacation?
Unlimited vacation, also called “discretionary time off,” is a policy that allows employees to take as many days off as needed per year. It often focuses on what people get done versus the number of hours spent in the office, deemed a results-only work environment (ROWE). It has been implemented primarily by startups, but some bigger names with unlimited vacation policies included LinkedIn, Netflix, GE, Virgin Group, Groupon, and Best Buy.
For employers, unlimited vacation time is a key HR strategy. Companies often implement unlimited vacation simply as a way to demonstrate that they care about their employees’ work-life balance.
Additionally, unlimited vacation saves enormous amounts of money for companies. Firstly, HR isn’t wasting time (and time-related costs) on tracking vacation days and scheduling.
Secondly, employers don’t have to pay out employees for unused days. In a traditional fixed vacation schedule, companies must pay employees for any unused vacation days either at the end of the year or when they leave the company. Unlimited policies mean that companies don’t have to pay employees for any time unused, even if the employee took zero vacation days in a 10-year career.
Furthermore, even if the vacation time is paid-time-off, the company will likely only pay for two weeks. The rest of the vacation time is allowed but unpaid.
At the heart of the unlimited vacation movement is the employer’s self interest to save money.
For employees, the thought is that providing unlimited vacation time will give workers freedom and responsibility. Employees will have more time to get refreshed, reduce stress, spend time with family, and avoid burn out, all of which can lead to higher productivity and improved job performance.
Unfortunately, despite the perceived benefits for employees, unlimited vacation doesn’t exist in real life the way it does on paper.
What Are The Problems With Unlimited Vacation?
1. Encourages people to not take time off
The fear that people will slack off with unlimited vacation policies is almost entirely unfounded. In fact, quite the opposite has proven true.
The number one concern with unlimited vacation is that employees don’t end up using any vacation days. Flex-working experts have even called it, “no-vacation policy turned no vacation.” With an infinite amount of days off, people tend to feel anxiety about the number of days it’s actually acceptable to take off.
In the fear of looking like a slacker or being judged for taking time off, they end up taking no time off at all. The American culture sees time off as a weakness, and individuals worry what their peers—especially in a highly competitive environment—will think of them.
Moreover, there’s always something to get done. Choosing to take a week off may feel like you’re missing out on something at work or your coworkers could feel you’re abandoning them. The high level of choice is overwhelming.
Many businesses find that employees take less time with unlimited vacation than strict vacation policies.
And it’s not a good thing to have workers in-house more often. This creates job stress, burnout, lowered engagement, minimized productivity, and more. The whole point of unlimited vacation is to give employees the necessary time to have a healthy work-life balance. If the policy proves to work in the opposite direction, it’s not doing its job.
Plus—there is a small percentage that abuse this policy. If an employee is already disengaged at work, unlimited vacation becomes an excuse to further separate themselves from their job.
2. Not consistent or regulated throughout the organization
Despite the unlimited vacation policy, it’s still highly up to the discretion and attitude of the leaders in the business. Some managers may be more approving and accepting than others. If employees still need to run their vacation dates by their manager, certain managers won’t give them the time off because they still have a fixed vacation mindset.
It’s harder to take advantage of unlimited vacation in a work environment that doesn’t wholeheartedly approve of it. In this way, even one negative nelly can ruin the unlimited vacation for everyone, just by being judgmental about days off or making employees feel guilty for the time they take.
Additionally, if CEOs and leaders aren’t taking advantage of the policy, other employees won’t as well. Often leaders also feel this same guilt that they don’t want to abandon their business to spend a week on an island. CEOs want to be there for their company—which is admirable in part. However, if they don’t take their vacation days with an unlimited vacation policy, it sets a precedent that no one else should take vacation either.
Strong leadership is at the core of any sort of flexible work policy.
3. Doesn’t work for all businesses
Unlimited vacation is not an end-all-be-all solution for most companies, especially those with hourly employees. This is true of a number of industries, especially as employees are choosing to work more flexible, hourly, and part-time schedules in an effort to gain a better work-life balance.
For example, a restaurant needs employees in the restaurant to get the work done. Servers can’t get their work done ahead of time to take off for a week. Those employees will miss out on that week’s customers and tips. In this way, unlimited vacation simply isn’t a realistic solution for a variety of businesses that have customer-facing and hourly employees.
What Is The Solution?
Unlimited vacation time can be a solution, but only if implemented flawlessly with top-down and bottom-up acceptance and appreciation.
And the messages of unlimited flexibility are important. Implementing this sort of policy demonstrates that the company:
- trusts their employees.
- sees the importance of a strong work-life balance.
- understands the individual wellness needs of each person.
- treats each person like a responsible adult.
- focuses on results rather than on hours.
But there are other ways to bring out those same messages in a more effective way. Different types of flexibility allow for a more interactive flex-work experience than unlimited vacation.
For example, flexible scheduling gives employees the ability to take time off by simply not scheduling themselves during those times. They have control over their own time management, which also allows them to control their vacation time.
With a large enough talent pool, flexible scheduling ensures you fill all shifts—while other employees can refresh for their next shift. In certain environments, especially with hourly employees, flex scheduling is a must.
Be The Solution
If you’re looking to give your employees more flexibility, it’s time to find a flex-work solution that works. Create a Forge account now to get started with a scheduling system that gives your employees the work-life balance they crave and provides your business with the resources and productivity to develop to the next level.