Chicago Tribune

by Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz / March 18, 2016

The way it was before, Erin Gallagher had 24 days of paid time off — generous by many standards, but they came with a measure of anxiety.

Gallagher, director of marketing at Chicago-based public relations firm Golin, said she would second-guess whether to stay home sick so as not to chip away at her allotment.

She felt guilty taking more than five days off at a time, fearing she’d appear indulgent.

But that was before. Come April 4, Golin will join the small but growing club of employers banishing vacation time limits, a practice gaining steam as a way to attract and retain talent, prevent burnout — and, less overtly, save companies the financial liability of having to pay employees for vacation time accrued when they leave.

Some experiments with unlimited vacation time have gone very wrong, creating suspicion or confusion that resulted in employees taking fewer days off than they had under a more structured system. But companies that have learned from those flameouts say they are focused on creating cultures that encourage workers to get away.

Employees who take long vacations of at least 13 consecutive days are more likely to be satisfied and want to stay in their jobs than those who take shorter breaks, according to a study from the nonprofit Families and Work Institute. They also report lower frequency of minor health problems, signs of depression and sleep problems.

Whether unlimited vacation policies actually encourage more rest time depends on the messaging from the top, said Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute. If senior leaders genuinely assert that they expect long vacations and take them themselves, people will likely abide, she said.

But a new study from the nonprofit, to be published in April, found that 40 percent of people feel they put their jobs in jeopardy if they use the flexibility that their companies offer, Galinsky said.

“Flexibility is not really flexibility unless there’s not jeopardy,” she said.

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