Unlimited vacation days, despite issues, a bold move

Some employers today have taken to letting go of the reigns of employee time off, creating policies such as unlimited vacation days.

As you might imagine, it’s an idea that has some supporters and some naysayers.

Companies that have adopted this policy say employees are happier and more empowered. While some management experts say workers given the choice of endless vacations days will end up using less than they did before when days were capped.

What most everyone agrees on that employers need to take on bold approaches such as unlimited time, to help transform workplaces into effective, productive places of work.

That’s the goal of the nearly 300 employers Families and Work Institute recently recognized with the 2013 Alfred P. Sloan Awards for Excellence in Workplace Effectiveness and Flexibility.*

“The motivation for our change was to ensure we attracted and retained top talent in Gen Y,” said Dunrie Greiling, chief operating officer and integrator at Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Pure Visibility, an internet marketing company that is leveraging unlimited paid time off as a recruiting and retention tool.

Gone are the days of accruing vacation days and waiting to take that trip in August once you’ve saved up the days. In the eight months since Pure Visibility implemented this program, there hasn’t been any negative effect on the quality of work and is instead making flexibility easier for everyone, including the admin team that used to track and report the paid time off being used by the staff.

At ACME Business Consulting in Portland, Oregon, it’s being used to emphasize the respect and trust that exist between employer and employee.

ACME consultants are trusted to run their own projects and their own schedules. They implemented the unlimited PTO program to demonstrate confidence in their employees and to encourage individual ownership in all aspects of employment.
Company leadership believes that this level of ownership drives better results and creates happier employees.

The most powerful indicator of the success of their unlimited PTO program is their growth. ACME grew 78 percent at the height of the recession and over the last few years have increased their headcount over 50 percent year-over-year.

For employers considering such a perk, there are cautions to keep in mind. A piece by Lotte Bailyn is the T. Wilson, professor of management, emerita at the MIT Sloan School of Management, recently wrote titled Unlimited vacation time is better in theory than in practice, stated that

When vacation time is offered as an unlimited resource many people decide not to take advantage because it’s too hard to figure out the right amount to take. At a time when many top-level professionals view the traditional 40-hour work week as a “part-time” job that amounts to “career suicide,” according to a 2011 report by the Center for American Progress (pdf), unlimited vacation time may be more confusing than helpful. Many people, of course, could benefit from more time off, but employees need guidelines. A mandatory minimum of two weeks of vacation might be a good starting point.

As with any flexibility program, this idea may not necessarily work for every employee group or in every organization. But for these Sloan Award winners, it works for them and is more than just a nice thing to do for employees, but is part of their whole workplace effectiveness strategy.

If you’re looking to get more information about effective workplaces, joins us this October in San Francisco for our Workflex Conference TRANSFORMING WORKPLACES: MAKING WORK “WORK” IN A 24/7 ECONOMY. The conference will be held on Oct. 29-30 in partnership with the Society for Human Resource Management.

* The Sloan Awards are conducted by When Work Works, a national initiative led by the partnership of Families and Work Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). This initiative helps organizations of all sizes and types become more successful by transforming the way they view and adopt effective and flexible workplaces. When Work Works is one of the foremost providers of resources, rigorous research and best practices on workplace effectiveness and flexibility in the nation. For more information, visit http://www.whenworkworks.org and follow us on Twitter

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One Response to Unlimited vacation days, despite issues, a bold move

  1. It’s great that this system is working for your company, but as you mentioned it’s not expected that it will work for all. But I do agree that there should be similar programs put into place to boost the moral of companies worldwide. The pressures of the economy has effected many to the comparison of drowning in a cup of water if this gives you an indication of how close to the edge people are living. So if companies could at least offer their employees some sort of incentive, I imagine it would be welcomed with open arms. Because a little relief is better than no relief at all.
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