As the winter holidays near, many employees all over the country will be counting their available vacation hours and deciding how much time they'll be taking off for feasting at Thanksgiving, celebrating Christmas, or ringing in the New Year.
At some businesses, however, employees can take off the whole month of December or get away for a trip to welcome 2015 without making sure they have the hours available. About 1% of U.S. companies offer workers unlimited paid vacation (Business Insider, 12/5/13) where they can make every weekend three days long or take a month off to travel the world. In the U.S., where employees don't take advantage of vacation days, companies that allow unlimited vacation may seem like a utopian paradise.
Companies without vacation policies essentially eliminate keeping track of how much or when staff members work. Employees determine when their day starts, ends, and when their job gets done. The 8-to-5 timeframe is completely eliminated.
Richard Branson recently announced that Virgin Management, the organization that manages Branson's family investments and foundation, would join the trend of allowing employees to take unlimited paid time off. If the change works for Virgin Management, then the subsidiaries will be encouraged to follow suit. Branson is not the first to scrap vacation policies. Netflix, Groupon, Glassdoor, HubSpot, and other businesses have already implemented vacation flexibility and allow workers to take as much time off as they want or need.
Advocates are convinced that these non-policies make employees less anxious and stressed. If a worker or a family member gets ill, the individual can focus on recovery, not on using up all of their time off. These employers insist that unlimited vacation breeds trust between the company and the employee and are not worried that workers will cash blank checks for perpetual time off.
Critics claim that such "endless summer" vacation policies actually benefit companies more than the employees they claim to make happier and more productive. Without a pre-determined schedule, , work hours are meaningless, which could make the work day become 24/7. Also, by not giving companies pre-determined vacation days, companies no longer have to pay departing workers for unused PTO.
Additionally, not feeling comfortable to make use of "unlimited" time off may mean employees actually end up taking less of it. Even if employees are hypothetically able to leave the office for the month of December to celebrate with their families, would they feel comfortable doing so? Staff members understand that being away from the office puts a burden on their coworkers. Employees may also not feel able use their "unlimited" vacation because of internal pressures to stay in the office in order to be considered for promotions, raises, or opportunities to be involved in new projects. Branson himself implied a conflict between boosting your career or taking advantage of unlimited vacation. In his recent blog post, Branson explains, "It is left to the employee alone to decide if and when he or she feels like taking a few hours, a day, a week or a month off, the assumption being that they are only going to do it when they feel a hundred per cent comfortable that they and their team are up to date on every project and that their absence will not in any way damage the business – or, for that matter, their careers!"
Is it better to have a set amount of vacation days but know that you don't have to check your email or worry about work, or be told that you have unlimited amount of time available but using it might actually harm your career?
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