should your company switch to unlimited vacation time?

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 people 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.

I originally published this at Intuit Quickbase’s blog.

{ 169 comments… read them below }

  1. AJ-in-Memphis*

    Would be nice, but I would rarely use it b/c I work during vacations anyway. :-(
    (Except when I went to Jamaica and had no cell or internet access, which was great!)

  2. Frustrated*

    The main issue with this is that there are a lot of jobs that could never do this. I’m all for companies who have the ability to offer this kind of perk, but when it is hyped up it creates such unrealistic expectations for new hire candidates.

    1. the gold digger*

      My husband and his co-workers dread when any of them go on vacation because they are already short staffed. Going on vacation means someone else has to pick up your work. This policy would only work, I think, in an organization that had some slack built into it, not at one where the department is half the size it was a few years ago with the same amount of work.

      1. Ruffingit*

        Yeah, definitely not something you can implement unless you have the staff numbers to make it work.

      2. Elysian*

        My husband works for a small company with an unlimited vacation time policy. In practice, they take the same amount of vacation that they did when they had a set number of days. Less, sometimes, because they know that others are picking up the slack while they’re gone.

        I don’t know if “unlimited” is the best name for it – there will come a limit. I think it’s more “take what you need and as long as you’re not a jerk about it we won’t get in your way.”

    2. Noelle*

      I agree. I’ve worked in an office with “unlimited” leave time, but I could never take a day off, ever. In fact, the only people who benefited from the leave policy were the higher ups, who managed to take numerous vacations throughout the year (one woman took at least eight weeks off for vacations, plus additional days off throughout the year). I think companies should really consider who will actually benefit from policies like this before they implement them.

  3. Jamie*

    I’ve said this before, but I could never work at a place with this policy. This would ensure the only time I ever took off would be unavoidable sick days.

    I need to know what I have on the books – that’s my banked time to use as I will. Having as much time as I want would be equal to my having no time at all…when is work ever 100% caught up and complete? Not in a lot of jobs ime.

    There is no part of my brain that wouldn’t be itchy at the concept – but I can see how some would find it a perk.

    1. Colette*

      Yeah, I’d be uncomfortable with it for much the same reason. I would probably take some days, but definitely less than I take now where everyone has the same expectations about how many days I have.

    2. Elkay*

      I have three weeks that I earmark for leave at the beginning of the year – DH’s birthday week, my birthday week and our anniversary week. I take other days as needed through the year but try and keep three extra for Christmas (in addition to my three mandatory). I’d probably take more odd days off if my company had this policy.

      1. Kirsten*

        This would be what I would do as well. I may only take one or two weeks in a row for vacation, but it would be really nice to have the odd day off here and there without worrying about depleting our PTO balance. Plus, I feel that it would be easier to cover and make up work, even if you end up taking more days.

    3. The IT Manager*

      This is my main complaint. The only good time for me to take off is when I am between projects which may come every few years or so so I need the authority of being expected to take a certain number of days a year.

      * I also work for the government where managers have limited ability to manage (ie complex HR processes especially to fire an underperforming employees), the institution would probably be stymied by this idea with no limits on leave, and the taxpayers would no doubt object because “they pay our salaries.”

    4. AdAgencyChick*

      +a million.

      Not that I wouldn’t take ANY time off — but I would take much less than I would given an allotment, because I always plan well and use ALL of my allotment. Whereas at an “unlimited” place, I’d always be wondering, “Does my boss resent that I’m taking this time?” and/or feel like I have to give my days back should things unexpectedly get busy at a time I had previously gotten approved to be out.

      That and, the one time I did take a job at a place that had an unlimited vacation policy, I asked about it in the interview and mentioned that I had four weeks at the job I was in at the time. The hiring manager’s eyes bugged out a little bit and he said, “Well, I don’t know about four weeks, but we have a flexible policy here…” and that’s when I knew that “unlimited” meant “three weeks if you’re lucky.” I took the job because I wanted it for other reasons, but I knew then that a generous but defined allotment was more actual days than an undefined allotment.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        That is exactly what I was thinking. If I was a seasoned employee and earned 4 weeks vacation, then suddenly we went to an unlimited policy, I wouldn’t be able to use my “earned” 4 weeks. Everyone can’t be using 4 weeks vacation, there wouldn’t be enough staff in the office.

        What about departments that are labor intensive where employees need to be in the office (like mail rooms). There could only be one person off at a time. So some departments could take 6 weeks vacation and some could only take 2 weeks.

        I think this is a way for companies to get out of paying unused vacation time back to employees. :)

        1. AnotherAlison*

          I wondered about that too. Vacation would no longer be a perk of seniority. I have 5 weeks PTO and usually take about 2 weeks off per year. The accumulated time would be lost & the 1-5 yr people would be on par with everyone else.

    5. IndieGir*

      I completely agree — I wouldn’t take any time off until I was on the brink of a nervous breakdown, b/c right now at my job, we are totally understaffed and never caught up. There would never be a time when I could take off and feel like my workload is managed, because (by design) the workload is unmanageable.

      However, since I’m actually given 5 weeks off, I view this as part of my compensation package and use almost all of them every year. Because to not use them would be cheating myself. But if I had unlimited time off I’d feel like I was taking advantage if I took 5 week.

    6. Dan*

      Me either. I hate imposing my view of the world on everybody else, but…

      My previous employer gave me 4 weeks of vacation for the first three years, and bumped it up to 5 after that. My current employer is on a similar plan, although it takes longer to get to the 5 week mark.

      Certainly an unlimited PTO policy is not designed to give me more time off than I already get. Two weeks every six months is enough.

      I’m like you Jamie — I need to know what I have on the books. It gives me something to look forward to, something that I can feel that I’ve earned. Agonizing about coverage and “have I done enough” takes away from the actual point of vacation — and that’s to relax and refresh.

    7. Canuck*

      Jamie, what if you had unlimited vacation, but also had a minimum amount of time you had to take off? That way you would be “forced” to take your holidays, but not be limited to that, and be able to take the occasional long weekend etc on top of your usual vacation time.

      1. Jamie*

        With the exception of people in finance I’ve known who are required to take a block of consecutive days once a year as an anti-fraud measure I just can’t even imagine this happening.

        In my industry being forced to take time off is pretty unheard of – so I guess my resistance to this would be less if that were the case. I just know how it would play out in most places I’ve worked and it would be hard to take the time.

    8. Anonymous*

      I completely agree with this. I might take like a Vacation when I went somewhere with people.

      But what I really want to use all my vacation time for is the occasional wednesday off where I go out and see a movie and do stuff around the house. Or a Monday so I can spend the entire weekend reading. These I would never do. (And for me these are much more recharging than a Vacation which is kind of like familial torture but more expensive.)

    9. AnonAthon*

      +1. We’re short-staffed, and I think we’d all guilt-trip ourselves like crazy about taking too much time. (As is, my boss always has tons of vacations days left at the end of the year.)

      Personally, I would love a happy medium policy. Something like: you are encouraged to take 3 weeks (or whatever), but we’re not going to keep track. In other words, expectation that you will take vacation, but without all the nit-picking over the precise numbers of hours. I’m also all for unlimited sick leave. Way too many colds get passed around when folks are paranoid about running out of sick days. Also: what is up with sick time not rolling over? Who gets sick the exact same number of days every year?

    10. Beth*

      My old company offered unlimited vacation but provided a guideline that they suggested “at least 3 weeks a year” of vacation. People typically took 2 – 4 weeks in a year. I appreciated the perk because I was being treated as an adult able to manage my work and didn’t feel “nickel and dimed.”
      While work is never 100% caught up, even before a vacation, taking time away can be good in the long term because it reveals where teams are overly reliant on a single individual or where things are insufficiently documented/standardized.
      Finally, for this to work and people to actually USE the benefit, senior management must use it as well. Lower ranking employees won’t use the vacation time if their managers don’t demonstrate that it’s important to recharge.

  4. Celeste*

    “as long as their work gets done and things are covered while they’re away”.

    That’s a little vague, and guidance is needed. By covered, does that mean make sure somebody else will be in to take calls? Does it mean you will answer messages while you’re on vacation? Does the time off need to be approved ahead a certain amount of time to make sure enough people will be around? What’s the plan for vacation conflicts?

    I guess I see the chance for things to fall through the cracks while everyone is using their unlimited vacation, including managers. I personally wouldn’t want to be on vacation and responding to work. To me, that is just shifting the work venue, and may not be compatible with family time.

    1. some1*

      Ditto this. My role has certain functions that *have* to be covered when I’m out. I don’t take a lot of vacation but I know I know the coworkers who get assigned my tasks resent it when I’m on vacation.

    2. Fiona*

      IMO, unlimited doesn’t necessarily mean unmanaged. I would think there would still be a vacation management process in place so that manager could turn down a vacation request if it would leave the office shorthanded or if there was a major deadline coming up.

      1. Meg Murry*

        Which in past offices I’ve worked in, meant that certain managers would never approve ANY days off – so unlimited would actually mean 0 – or maybe 1-2 days here and there.
        When things were slow at a friend’s job a new policy came out that highly encouraged employees to take (and managers to approve) just about as much unpaid, pre-planned time off as a department could handle. I would be fine with that – a set amount of PTO, plus as many unpaid days as I could convince my boss (and budget) to give me? Works for me!

    3. Jennifer*

      Yeah, it sounds like “you can only go on vacation if someone is around to cover you.”

    4. MaryMary*

      I think that’s part of the reason unlimited PTO is so popular at technology companies. If many of your employees only work on one or two long term projects and are fairly independent in terms of work activities, it makes sense to let them plan their PTO for the slow periods in return for working like mad towards the end of the project. It’s much harder for positions where there is no real down time and one person being out of the office for more than a day or two means that someone else needs to pick up their work.

      1. Piper*

        This. I work for a tech company (we don’t have an unlimited vacation policy), but I could see this working, but only for the people who specifically design and engineer the software. I’m one of those people and my workload is definitely cyclical. Other departments are busy year-round (like client services, etc), so I’m not sure how it would work for them.

        1. MaryMary*

          My first job out of college was doing QA. While the programmers were coding away, there was nothing for me to test. I could have taken a little PTO to rest up before the poop hit the fan.

      2. Emily K*

        I agree. I work in online marketing and this would work very well with my team. We don’t have unlimited vacation, but we generally notify rather than request when it comes to taking the days we’re given, on the same principle: get your work done and make sure you’re covered while you’re away. Everyone is expected to submit everything that’s due up to the end of their vacation before their vacation begins. (For a very long vacation, this can mean working late or working extra hours from home in the days before leaving–we’re all exempt but our culture cherishes the no-more-than-45-hour workweek.) The only things our coworkers cover for us when we’re away is urgent pop-up requests which are typically a very small percentage of our work, and each person usually divides their work into 2-3 areas so that emergency requests are being rerouted to 2-3 people instead of one, making it an even smaller percentage of extra work for those people.

        On top of that, working online both lends itself to working remotely and is a great field for emergencies that happen at all hours of the day and night. So we generally leave a cell number for emergencies and check email at least a couple times a day when on vacation to make sure nothing needs our attention, although it’s not strictly required that we do so, there’s a culture of doing it anyway. I feel like our team wouldn’t abuse the vacation policy, given we do have goals that aren’t attendance-based – and we all work so many late nights for emergencies and crunch times and everything that it’d be a nice gesture on the part of our employer to let us take time whenever we can make it work.

        1. Emily K*

          OTOH I’m pretty sure half my team would be off every other Friday under this system. Everyone would be capable of busting their butts a little harder and staying a bit late each day to get 10 days’ work done in 9 days and have a long weekend every other weekend. If the demand for Fridays off skyrockets there are fewer people to handle emergencies on Fridays.

          I think we’d need a culture around encouraging vacation to be taken in blocks instead of just long weekends.

    1. MaryMary*

      I’ve been lucky enough to have a pretty generous PTO policy (20+ days), and I think the last time I used all my PTO was they year my Dad spent a month in the hospital and I lived several states away.

  5. Sandrine*

    I would love this, mostly because of “sick days” .

    Sure, I’d rather not be sick at all, but if I need to see a dentist, or if I get so sick I have a hard time being up (like this week, actually!) , it’s nice to know I can “take” the days.

    Now, watch till they retract the policy because slackers find the loopholes…

    1. Jamie*

      I like the idea of not charging people PTO for sick days and just dealing with those who are abusing it. This way people will call in when sick and not tough it out just because they don’t want to cut into vacation time.

      And maybe it’s just because I’ve never worked in a place that would even consider this – but I’m imaging meeting after horrendous meeting trying to figure out if X had all their work done – what’s reasonable and if Y is taking too much time, even though there is no specified time. And I can’t imagine an office where you won’t have issues with some abusing it and others never taking time ever. And those camps together will make for one cocktail full of bad morale.

      I need finite parameters for vacation.

      1. Sandrine*

        For example, in a job like mine (call center) , this would be abused to hell and back and would never work (well, I don’t think it would work in the country, period, even though a slight change about sick days would be nice).

      2. the gold digger*

        not charging people PTO for sick days and just dealing with those who are abusing it

        That’s how it’s been every place I have worked up to now. I negotiated 21 days of vacation. I didn’t realize until months into my job that PTO included sick time and that I was supposed to account for my hours on my timecard. (I had not been required to complete a timecard since I was a waitress in college.)

        I do not enjoy being treated as someone who is irresponsible and uninterested in doing a good job.

        1. Rose*

          Every time a workplace treats me like I am irresponsible and uninterested in doing my job, I find myself doing an excellent job meeting their expectations.

          When I’m treated like an adult who can be trusted to get everything done on time and time off when it’s reasonable, I act like one.

        2. Rose*

          This is bullshit. Most people in corporate America would NEVER take time off if they could only take it if their work would get done. I think these companies are likely taking advantage of that face.

          News flash: your work WON’T get done if you’re not in the office. You can’t always predict slow weeks when you won’t be needed far out enough to make plans.

          If your boss is giving you a light enough work load that you can afford to leave sometimes, they’re still dictating you how much vacation time you can take; they’re just doing so more indirectly. And without any guaranteed days, what’s to stop them from keeping you too busy to ever get away?

    2. Laufey*

      My company has a sort of compromise – we have set vacation days (an average allotment for my industry) plus unlimited sick time. Things like dentists, doctors, migraines (and even the occasional I-just-worked-a-sixty-hour-week-and-need-a-day-to-recharge-day) can all be counted as sick time.

      Admittedly, I have an amazingly functional workplace, all things considered, but people tend to not abuse the system.

      1. Jennifer*

        Yeah, I use “sick time” for doctor and dentist appointments and everyone is fine with that.

      2. KC*

        My last company had a policy like this. We also all had remote access, so if we were sick and didn’t want to spread the plague (or get out of our pajamas), we could work from home. I think being able to work remotely while sick was what made the policy work. The policy also kept office-wide sickness at bay.

  6. Ann Furthermore*

    I could see this being a great perk for the Indian people I work with. Normally they keep all their vacation time for a trip to India to visit family every year or 2, and they’re gone for 2-4 weeks at a time. It makes sense for the trips to be so long: it’s a long way to travel, it’s expensive (especially if you’re taking your spouse and/or kids), so you want to make sure that you have time to visit all the family and friends on your list.

    But that means they rarely take the random day or 2 off here and there that the rest of us do. Which is such a drag…sometimes you just want to have a few days at home to hang out and do nothing.

    But like Celeste said above, you would have to really have a very clearly defined policy regarding work being caught up, your availability during your time away, and all the rest of it.

      1. Mariette*

        I don’t understand- is there a problem with her mentioning Indian people specifically? Why was she supposed to say “immigrants” instead of referring to the specific group of people she works with and whose vacation habits she is personally familiar with? I reread her comment a few times and could see nothing negative toward anyone. She was simply talking about her coworkers.

        1. AB*

          Exactly! I worked with Koreans (as in, they were not immigrants, they were Korean citizens here on visas) and they took vacation in much the same manner where they wouldn’t take days of here and there because they were saving it all up for a big trip back to Korea. I can’t see how that observation could possibly be offensive or non-PC

          I also don’t take days here and there because I’m usually saving mine up for holidays and specific events (generally to travel to see family because both sides get really pissy if you don’t spend enough “family time” at Christmas). I would love the opportunity to take a day as needed as a work break. For example, I am going to be travelling for the next two weeks and will be flying literally around the globe. The schedule is grueling and I will probably be absolutely shot when I get back in on a Sunday. I would give anything to be able to take an extra day off to recoup, but can’t because I only get a week’s vacation time that I’ll be taking in December

        2. Jamie*

          That’s how I read it – her co-workers that do this happen to be Indians.

          I also work with people who use vacations in large blocks to go out of the country so if it were me I’d say Mexicans or Poles. Because those are the people I work with who do that.

          It wasn’t a disparaging comment.

          1. tesyaa*

            The flight time to India is much longer than the flight time to Mexico or even Poland… you really need 2 days coming and 2 days going, more or less, so taking a single week of vacation to go to India is really pointless.

      2. Ann Furthermore*

        No, I meant that I am in IT, and like many other people, I work with quite a few people from India, which has been the case in each IT job I’ve ever had. And as a rule, they mostly save their vacation time to use in large chunks so they can travel home and get the most for the money they have to spend to get there.

        I’m not sure I understand what you found offensive about my reply.

      3. Sharm*

        There’s nothing offensive about what Ann said. I’m Indian, and this is exactly what my dad did when we were growing up. It’s a common experience for this specific group of immigrants.

        1. Ann Furthermore*

          Another guy I used to work with, also from India, was getting ready for a visit there with his wife and 3 kids. He said something about how expensive it was, and I said something like, “Well my gosh, the airfare alone must be enough to just about clean you out!” And he said yes, that was true, but that also, when he goes back for a visit he’s expected to bring a gift of some kind for just about every person he’s ever met in his entire life. But I don’t know if this is a common cultural thing, or just something specific to his family or the region where he’s from.

          He made me laugh though, talking about why that’s why he only goes back every 3 or 4 years, because that’s how long it takes him to save up the money for the next trip, and then saying that bringing all those gifts meant he had lots of extra room to bring back all the things he’s not able to get in the US.

          I lived in Saudi Arabia as a kid, and everyone would pack smaller suitcases inside of larger ones when they came back to the US on leave. Then they’d load up on the strange random things that you never realize you need until you can’t find them in the store: lime jello, bungee cords, just about any odd thing you can think of. My dad had my sister bring him an air conditioning unit for his GM truck once. Hee!

      4. Dan*

        I’ve seen the same thing with people from Vietnam in my workplace.

        I would imagine most people working in the US with relatives on the other side of the world have the same tendency to take blocks of time off to go back for a visit.

        1. Windchime*

          I have co-workers who have family in India, Russia, China and Viet Nam, and they all take a trip home every other year or so and save up several weeks of vacation to do it. It makes sense to me.

    1. Stephanie*

      Ann, I’m with you! I had a lot of foreign coworkers/coworkers with significant amounts of family abroad and they usually went away for at least two weeks due to the cost of airfare (easily $2000)

      1. Anonymous*

        this is a very different way of posting what Ann stated above. And in my opinion– not offensive.

        additionally, Ann made a generalization of a group of individuals based on race or ethnicity. As someone who’s part of that group, but the generalization does not apply– that’s offensive.

        If you substitute a different race or ethnicity for Indians in this statement, it reads as a race based generalization– which can be offensive.

        1. fposte*

          She said “the Indians I work with.” That’s not the same thing as saying “Indians”; it’s identifying a group of people at her workplace with particular travel practices. I don’t even see how it would help for her to have said “the immigrants” if she’s only talking about the people from India and not any other immigrants, and if there are no other immigrants then it would be saying the same thing but pretending she doesn’t know where they’re traveling to. That would be weird.

        2. Anonymous*

          I didn’t take any offense or notice any racialized generalizations in Ann’s post. She’s talking specifically about Indians with whom she works. Identifying them as Indians makes sense in this context, because we’re talking about travel cost and duration.

          If she just said immigrants, some might assume she meant Mexicans, and then wondered why a trip to Mexico necessitates a 2-4 week vacation.

        3. Anonymous*

          Ann wasn’t generalizing based on race or ethnicity. She was generalizing based on where people have to travel to see their relatives. A flight to India is about 15 hours from where I live, and a flight to the UK is about half that. A drive to Cleveland takes still less time. It was really clear that there was no racial or ethnic stereotyping behind her comment.

        4. Ann Furthermore*

          I think I can say with confidence that if I was a person who regularly made a practice of racial/ethnic stereotyping, I would not have lasted long in a career in IT. In addition to working with people from India, I’ve also worked with people from Iraq, Syria, China, and many other places.

          I referred to them as “the Indian people I work with,” because that’s who they are: people I work with who are from India, who live and work in the US.

        5. Parfait*

          Not EVERY time you mention someone’s ethnicity is offensive. Just like not every time you mention someone’s gender is offensive. Sometimes it’s a relevant detail.

        6. Mariette*

          (To the poster who took offense from Ann’s comment) You’re ridiculous. That is all.

    2. Liz*

      As the child of immigrants who is now in the workforce, this kind of vacation policy would have been absolutely amazing to have growing up and it would be awesome to have now. My family came over from China in the 80’s, and I was born in the US, but aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, etc, are all back in China. So I can definitely relate to the Indian people that you worked with.

      As a kid, I watched my mom and dad painstakingly save up their vacations year after year so we could make a 3 week trip back to China to see aging great aunts/uncles and parents. They never, ever, ever took just a day off here or there just to rest, and always seemed so burnt out because they wanted the full 3 week trip. With so many people to see, and a 15 hour flight each way, anything less than 3 weeks just wasn’t enough time.

      Just last year my parents had a 30th anniversary trip planned and had to cancel it because my grandfather got really sick and my they had to go back to China. Now that i’m working, I have been trying to save up time to go and see my Grandma who I haven’t been able to see in 5 years (due to school and internships) and it has been really tough and stressful because she is in her 90s with heart problems and I feel like i’m racing against time.

      I think having “unlimited time off” with some regulations is really the ideal situation. I’m sure there are plenty of people in the US with family just in a different state that would really benefit from this. Or even just more vacation time in general would be nice. 5 weeks would be magical. Sorry ’bout the rant, this is just a topic that hits close to home.

  7. Legal jobs*

    I like the idea.

    Both a friend of mine and myself discussed how we work. He’s in tech so although he is productive in 5 he must put in 10. Although I can complete my work in 5, I must put in 12.

    The takeaway: we concluded wthat work is more about cultural Norms,which is unfortunate

    1. Jamie*

      If you can literally complete your jobs in half the time allotted or less why aren’t they being restructured to fill your time? Or why aren’t they part time jobs?

      Everyone has slower weeks on occasion, but I’m always confused by the people who say they can consistently do their jobs properly and completely in far less than 40 hours per week. I have no doubt that’s true in many cases, but I don’t understand why tptb don’t add to the jobs to make it full time or just cut it to a part time position. It doesn’t make financial sense to me.

      1. Legal jobs*

        The Reality of being an attorney at my level of experience is that I have seen many of the legal issues before, I spend a large amount of time waiting for business managers and, when they do finally respond, they needed it yesterday so I work quickly is they want blame the lawyer which business managerc tend to do. I can put my head down and get it done once I have thx project in hand.

        As for my friend, he explained that he has a similar process. He doesn’t like dragging it out as he describes performing work

        He and I are probably more toward the 80 percent efficiency that management books describe as the optimal one can expect . However, We still have to work with others who are not as focused.

        I am just a fan if incentivizing focus bc it fits one of my strengths

        1. Jamie*

          I can see that in your profession, your value is in your expertise and you have to be available when you get what you need from others. So yes, in your case and some others that makes sense to me.

          When I’ve come across this ime it’s been more clerical jobs where (for example) AR can be run properly and completely in 15 hours a week, but AP needs a full 40 because of different tasks (both competent and good time management.)

          So either the AR clerk should be part time, or find other things for that position to do because paying someone to be idle more than half the week about what you’re paying a similar position who has 40 hours worth of work to do – is financially silly. Breeds resentment for the one working more, wastes time of the one without enough to do, and hurts morale.

          But yes, when you get into the more rarefied jobs like you’re talking about it’s far more about what you bring to the table when you’re at the table than how long you need to sit there.

          1. Admin*

            I’m an admin in an office. I have a decent amount of down time; however, I need to be available at all times to do menial tasks that others don’t want to complete/answer the phone. I have the time to take phone calls, whereas if it were a PT position, someone else would have to constantly watch the phone line, which would cut into their productivity. Similarly, since everyone else is “more important” that I am, they need certain tasks done ASAP, which I’m able to complete effectively.

            That being said, this vacation time would be awful for me, as I’m expected M-F from 8-5. “Getting my work done” is literally sitting at my desk for phone calls. I’m just defending the people that have a lot of down time…

            1. Jamie*

              If your job is phones downtime is irrelevant (unless you want more to do) because you’re there to answer the phones should they ring.

              Just like if your job is to man the help desk you’re still fulfilling your job even if no needs you at the moment…because you’re there if they do.

              I’m talking about the jobs where people want to and could cut out early because they are “done.” That’s never the case with admin (who need to be there if someone needs them) or anyone on phones or support.

          2. AnotherAlison*

            We had a person pulling & formatting database reports who needed to be here 5 days/week to do < 3 hrs of work per day. We had to make it a 20 hr position just to attract someone, when those of us here who know the system could do the work in 5 hrs/week. In the end, it didn't work out because we all got sick of this person goofing off all the time and she wanted something full time, but her skill level wasn't high enough to do anything else in the department.

            I think there end up being a lot of positions like that. The full time role is needed because you can't fill part time roles easily, and to have full time people earning $30-$40/hr doing $12/hr work also makes no sense, and higher level management just doesn’t care as long as the damn work gets done.

      2. Legal jobs*

        Of course as others are describing it in practice it seems like its not there to promote focused use of time but to overwork employees

      3. Jennifer*

        Well, it would screw the employee over on being able to pay rent if they were being paid only for the hours they worked or moved to part time. When I had a job like that (it had a busy period for several months and the rest of the year it was slow), I just worked slowly because I didn’t want to be out of a job, duh.

        In the case of my current job, the workload is in and out throughout the day, so it’s unpredictable as to when I will be busy and when I will not be from hour to hour. And I am basically “on call” for when that happens anyway.

        1. Legal jobs*

          Its just my version of a dream job

          The reality is that I accept these issues as part of the ups and downs of the job

          As for being on call, I stopped doing that when one manager called me at 1 am to ask me a question

      4. Stephanie*

        Some of this is the legal industry. Even as a non-attorney, I found my workload alternated between down times and “we needed this an hour ago.”

      5. Anonymous*

        Idle time can definitely be an issue when you have cyclical work demands – ie a busy season, etc. From a financial perspective, it might make sense to have a regular part-time position, and then rely on temps for the busy periods. But for certain positions, it’s hard to find top people if you’re not offering full-time employment. And some positions are so specialized or unusual that it is difficult to use temps.

        One way my company handles this is to keep a “rainy day” list of tasks for folks to work on if they do have downtime. Nothing to do? Great, choose something from this list.

      6. Lynn Whitehat*

        I DON’T KNOW! I used to have a job like that. So bored. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get more work to do. People were very protective of their “turf”. I went to night school and did schoolwork at my desk 3-4 hours a day to fill the time, so win-win, I guess?

        The weird thing was, my co-workers always complained how “swamped” they were. One time, I automated a manual process, but (foolishly, in hindsight) had status messages print to the screen as it worked. My colleagues used my automation… but sat there watching messages scroll by all day. No! I created that tool so we could do something else while it ran!

        The company is consistently profitable, but heck if I know how. I got out and found an employer who appreciates someone who knows how to get things done.

  8. EM*

    I don’t think I’d like it for reasons Jamie already mentioned.

    Additionally, I have a friend who works at a company that ostensibly gives “unlimited” sick days — except last year she called in sick 5 days of the year (once for a serious upper respiratory infection where she was out 3 days in a row) — and she was “flagged” by HR and was given a talking to about taking too many sick days.

    That’s not really unlimited then. And I would have similar concerns about “unlimited” vacation.

    1. some1*

      Yeah, when a policy really isn’t the policy it’s horrible for employee morale. My last company had a casual dress code (jeans every day). One of my friends got dinged on her performance eval for….you guessed it, wearring jeans every day!

      1. Jamie*

        Right – that’s the point for me. None of it is unlimited – because there is a limit beyond which you’re abusing the system taking too much time.

        So since it’s not really unlimited it’s just keeping the limit a secret or deciding on the limit after the fact…but you’re right, unlimited it’s not.

        1. fposte*

          Weirdly, this reminds me of how annoyed I always got with American Express’s claims of no credit limit. Sure, there’s a limit, because even on accounts in good standing they’ll decline charges. It’s not a perk that you won’t tell your customers what that limit is.

        2. Anonymous*

          “So since it’s not really unlimited it’s just keeping the limit a secret or deciding on the limit after the fact…but you’re right, unlimited it’s not.”

          It also opens the door to unequal treatment and even discrimination. Is everyone held to the same secret limit? Does it differ by manager? By seniority? By job type? Health? Age? Gender? Race?

      2. EM*

        True. But I also feel like 5 days in an entire year should not be enough to get someone flagged internally. It’s a perfectly reasonable amount of time, IMO.

        That’s why I don’t like it — how does an employee know the “secret” limit? I wouldn’t think that 5 days/year is unacceptable, but obviously her company had an issue with it.

        I’d rather they just have a set # of sick/vacation days so everyone knows where they stand.

      3. De*

        Actually, yes it can. In my country, Germany, that’s standard. For everything over 6 weeks health insurance will cover 70 percent of your pay, but if you are gone less than that or more but in several intervals, the company has to keep paying you.

  9. BG*

    This week I am interviewing at a company that offers this, and I’m unsure how I feel about it. On one hand, it seems like it would be great to take any time I want…. but on the other, I feel like I will feel guilty taking the time. We’ll see how the interview goes!

  10. Just a Reader*

    I always thought this was a decision used by companies peddling themselves as acquisition targets, to remove paid vacation as a financial liability.

    Culturally, I’d rather have an assload of designated vacation than unlimited vacay.

    1. Meg Murry*

      And since some states have laws requiring paying out departing employees for unused vacation – no official vacation days also equals no payouts.
      That was one advantage to leaving a crappy job where I was never able to take a vacation – at least I got a big check when I left!

    2. KC*

      You’re voicing my suspicion around these sorts of policies; if they don’t designate the time, they’re not responsible for paying out for it at then end of your time with them.

  11. Kethryvis*

    my work place has this. i don’t like it. Part of it is because, until this year, holidays fell under this policy too. So we’d ask about holiday time off, and an email would go out (from one of our co-founders) about how taking time off is okay “but during the holiday So-and-So and i are going to be doing XYZ to improve our business. So make your decision wisely.” Which sounded to me like a giant guilt trip to work as much as possible. [supposedly this year we’re supposed to have a calendar of all holidays we are closed. We are 3 months in and it has yet to materialize at least that i can see]

    i do find myself taking less time off. Even sick days i don’t have, since in theory i can work from home. That, combined with my terrible commute, is really burning me out pretty badly.

    it’s a great idea in practice, but it needs to be managed well and employees need to not feel guilty about asking for time off.

  12. AmyNYC*

    My brother-in-law has this and he’s not just taking any day he wants; he figured out how much vacation other companies give for same/similar position/experience and decided that he has 15ish days and budgets that way.

  13. MissD*

    I don’t know. Unlimited? A company may say that, but is it ever really unlimited? And if it is, I expect there would be those who abuse and those who never use.

    I’m more in favor of liberal vacation/sick days that are just called FlexTime, and you can use them for whatever you want, in increments of ½ days or something, no questions asked.

  14. JustKatie*

    I have friends who work for Groupon, which has this policy, and most of them dislike it from what I’ve heard; they’ve said it’s basically a race to the bottom to make sure you’re taking fewer days off than your colleagues so you look “dedicated”. I like my vacation days spelled out so I don’t feel like an outlier in any way (although I REALLY liked the five weeks I had in France!).

    1. Bwmn*

      This would be my biggest fear with this kind of a policy.

      I also feel that having set vacation days provides the employee with a greater sense of security that they have some kind of footing to say “I am entitled to take x amount of vacation”. These unlimited policies remind me too often of a friend renting out space to another friend and doing so without any kind of formal paperwork. Sure at the start of the day everyone likes and trusts one another – but without that paperwork there is too much area for someone (usually the renter/employee) to feel like they’ve been screwed over in the arrangement.

    2. Mike C.*

      Why don’t they have a competition for the number of paychecks they don’t cash while they’re at it? Christ, I hate these unsustainable attitudes.

    1. Sunflower*

      Exactly- unlimited vacation but OH here’s so much work that you couldn’t take any days off even if you wanted to.

  15. Lily in NYC*

    I would HATE this so much. I don’t think it’s a perk at all – I honestly think it’s a way for companies to get us to use less time off by creating a culture where people don’t use their time.

  16. Dianne*

    My brother works for an unlimited vacation employer, he rarely takes a full day off, just parts of days. I suspect his employer would be OK with him taking a week or so off every now and then, but he’s a workaholic.

    I’m the same way but I have 5 weeks vacation time (and 2 weeks sick time) at this point and my employer stresses the importance of using it, so I do.

    I do think more employers can afford to be flexible, allow people to take unpaid time off in special circumstances or vary their schedule if it doesn’t impact their work (work late wednesday leave early friday, for example).

  17. Anon - 345*

    How would you plan for medical leave? I want to save up my PTO to cover as much of it as I can… how would you budget/use unlimited time for that? I definitely couldnt afford to go unpaid so I would want that celarly outlined. and if I leave or am laid off and wasn’t able to use the PTO I earned? I want it paid out, I earned it. Right now I have 6 weeks in my bank and I would be upset if I couldnt recieve the benefit from it either in vacation or in $$$ for whatever reason.

    1. fposte*

      Though a lot of places have use-it-or-lose-it policies that wouldn’t let you accrue six weeks anyway.

    2. Anonymous*

      you still could accrue sick leave based on work schedule/longevity, etc. This type of policy could apply only to vacation and not to all paid time off.

      1. fposte*

        Sick days generally aren’t enough to cover pay for longer health-related leaves, though. It’s pretty common for people on FMLA to have to use vacation time to get paid.

  18. Susie Derkins*

    My firm has an unlimited/”discretionary” time off policy for attorneys. One drawback to it is that there’s no PTO to accrue to cover maternity leave. As a result, our maternity leaves are short, and we rely on STD for any pay at all (and it’s partial/capped in weekly amt and to time of strict “disability.”). A 6 week maternity leave with partial pay via STD is a real downer when it comes to recruiting quality women candidates.

    1. Anonymous*

      Is it illegal to structure benefits in such a way that women are discouraged from applying? That is, does it meet the legal definition of discrimination?

  19. fposte*

    How does this work in states where unused vacation time has to be paid out to you when you leave?

    1. Kate*

      I could definitely be wrong about this, but I believe they don’t have to pay out if there isn’t a defined number of days. I have pretty undefined vacation at the law firm where I work (it’s all good as long as the billable hours are met) and I’ve taken between 2-3 weeks each year.

      1. Anonymous*

        Kate is right.

        My state views accrued vacation time as earned compensation. Employers are legally required to pay out unused vacation time when an employee leaves. And accrued vacation time can never expire.

        Unlimited vacation plans are not considered to be “earned” in the same way.

    2. Mints*

      I think that technically, the employees aren’t accruing hours. Which would suck for Californians like me who are used to cashing that money at Christmas, or for summer vacations etc.
      For a lot of people I know, generous vacation time is more about cash bonuses rather than actual time off. Unlimited policies wouldn’t be beneficial

      1. techworker*

        Notice both companies mentioned are in California (Evernote and Netflix). This way if they fire someone they don’t have to pay out vacation days.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Exactly this. The dirty little secret of California tech companies is that all those super-cool benefits they offer employees are really for the benefit of the company – not the employees. (Like on-site cafeterias and rec areas and ‘movie nights’; that’s to make sure employees stay at work, instead of going out for lunch or going home for dinner.)

          Unlimited vacation means that you don’t formally accrue PTO, therefore they aren’t required to pay you for any unused PTO when you leave or at the end of the year, and by favoring “dedicated” employees who don’t take much vacation time, the company creates subtle pressure never to use vacation time at all.

          1. Elkay*

            Ooh that’d make an interesting column (not sure if Alison reads all the comments) but something along the lines of “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” listing how various perks actually work more in a company’s favor.

  20. BadPlanning*

    I worked at a company with set vacation and unlimited sick time. I know someone who switch to a company without a set vacation time. My observation is that he does not take as much vacation as he did before and is more inclined to work when he’s theoretically on vacation.

    I like being able to mentally check out that my vacation is a vacation day (that said, not all my coworkers do this and often do work while “on vacation”). But it would be nice to have more — but would I use it? Or would I fall into the trap of taking less vacation?

  21. Joey*

    I have a problem with the word unlimited. Its too gimmicky. It reminds me of the job ads you see with unlimited income potential.

    1. Celeste*

      Thank you. The onus is then on the employee to debunk the policy, and the stage is set for conflict.

  22. kristinyc*

    I have unlimited vacation time, and last year I took exactly 6 days off (and worked for 4 of them). I haven’t really been able to take time off, and there’s no sense of urgency in a “I have to use up my days” way. Also, when people leave my company – we don’t get paid out for remaining days since there aren’t any.

    (In case you couldn’t tell, I’m not a fan of unlimited vacation days..)

    1. Time Off is Necessary*

      I’m sad for kristinyc and others who feel they can’t take time off or really can’t take time off.

      What is happening out there? Are all of us on this blog doctors and surgeons where someone will die if we’re not at work? Anyway, that is a rather bad example because I’ve worked with doctors and they do indeed take time off throughout the year.

      If we can’t take time off because the work won’t get done – the system needs to be fixed. If it’s a work load issue that the company won’t resolve then that sucks but maybe we should move on from that job. If we won’t take time off because we feel we’re irreplaceable – almost everyone is certainly replaceable and life at work goes on just fine when most of us are away.

      On your death bed you won’t be thinking about all the phones you answered at work, the cases you won, the IT problems you resolved. You’ll be thinking about that trip to Spain or the time spent traveling to see an old college roommate.

      Please – think about this while you sacrifice your life for your job.

      1. The IT Manager*

        Well, I am not sacraficing my personal life for work, but my problem is too much work for the number of resources we’ve been provided. Since it is knowledge work if you disconnect for the week (or whatever) you have a lot of catching up to do on the day you get back.

        * Your tax dollars at work. The govt is trying to save your money.

      2. MissD*

        I worked for a very small company with only 4-6 people, so while we did get holidays, week-long vacations were rare. I think I took maybe 4 vacation days in two years, usually surrounding a holiday.

        When I got laid off, those vacation days weren’t paid out.

      3. neverjaunty*

        Actually, I’ll be thinking about whether I provided for my family, which I can’t do if I blow off work for weeks at a time to go hang out in Spain. I’ll also be happy that I was able to help many people through my work.

        Yes, the American workplace is horrible for work-life balance, but it’s more than a little arrogant of you to assume you know exactly how much work other people should be doing and when they should take vacations.

        1. Time Off is Necessary*

          Who’s asking anyone to blow off work to go to Spain? For some reason in this country, it’s pansy to suggest people take time for themselves. BELIEVE ME – those at the top of any organization are taking time for themselves. Why aren’t we?

          But for whatever reason – it’s become a middle class badge of honor to work a lot of hours, or say we’re working a lot of hours, be stressed, have no time for yourself, take no vacation and some people – complain about the whole situation instead of changing it. And you know what I’ve noticed in the past 25 years – the productivity in my particular field doesn’t seem to be any better. It’s people running in circles.

          My perspective is one of age, the number of years I’ve spent in the workforce and many years working with hospice patients. Yes – while people are dying – they are so proud they’ve been able to provide for their families – but most people don’t speak of their work at the end – really they don’t – unless they have some sort of celebrity tied to their work. Even the younger patients who have recently quit work because of their impending death. The overwhelming majority reflect on family, friends, their faith communities, community involvement, etc…I’ve never heard one of them state they wish they had spent more hours working. Or regret that they took vacation or just took time off for themselves. If anything – some of the men say they wish they had more time with their kids when they were young.

  23. Jill*

    I like to think I operate in a professional, ethical, and adult manner in the workplace. But when I was off for 12 weeks after the birth of my child, the further I went into my leave, the more I kept thinking, “boy I could get used to this!”.

    Point is, even the most professional of people can get lacksidasical if there’s no accountability. I wouldn’t want to work in this kind of system. Like others have illuded to, having a set number of days on paper “proves” that you’re putting in an honest amount of time.

  24. MaryMary*

    I think there has to be leadership support to ensure people actually take their “unlimited” vacation time, or no one will take any. At OldJob, we got extra PTO on each five year anniversary. Five extra days at five years, ten extra days at ten years, on up to four weeks. Many of our senior leaders qualified for the time since they’d been here so long, and they used their time off. Some took an extra week or two, or took off every Friday in the summer, but I knew a couple people who took a solid month. They planned around projects and were accessible during their time away, but it reinforced the idea that no one person should be so crucial to operations that they couldn’t take some time away.

    OTOH, at my current job several of the senior sales executives technically have unlimited PTO, since they’re commissioned and been working here since before anyone created a PTO policy. They are also the ones who complain the loudest when someone on the support staff is out of the office when they need something.

  25. Stephanie*

    In theory, this does sound awesome. I’ve done my fair share of Christmas flights/red eyes/work just Friday of a week because I didn’t have enough leave.

    In practice, I can see how this would go awry: vacation being discouraged, a race to the bottom to see who’s the most “dedicated” and never takes leave, and so on.

    I wonder, too, how much of this is for the company’s benefit to avoid having the unused vacation liability on the books?

  26. SK*

    I have unlimited PTO at my current job, and I think it works well (at least from what I’ve seen so far–I’ve only been here for two months)!

    I think the reason it’s successful, though, is that we’re given a general frame of reference for what the norm is. They phrased it as a 3-week minimum, and I think I (and most of my coworkers) will probably end up somewhere in that ballpark by the end of the year. It’s nice, though, to know that I don’t have to be super vigilant about counting up family trips/commitments/etc., and have the flexibility to take extra days here and there as I need to.

    My bosses’ reasoning behind this policy (which is still fairly new) is that we work in a very stressful field, and they want to prevent burnout. To that end, if you need to work from home, leave early, whatever, you’re totally allowed to do whenever you need to as well. I haven’t seen anyone abuse it, but we all generally like our jobs and our team supervisors are very hands-on and supportive, so there isn’t a reason to do so and we wouldn’t really be able to get away with that.

    1. Parfait*

      I like the idea of having an expected minimum under such a policy.

      I personally have no issues taking every minute of my permitted time off, but I work with some folks who seem entirely unable to disengage and probably wouldn’t take their days off if we weren’t making them.

  27. Dan*

    I’m just going to be blunt and ask: Who on god’s green earth thought that this is a good idea? If you really want your employees to relax, give them a bunch of defined time off and encourage them to use it. Also make sure they use it.

    Anything else is management speak for “we’re trying to screw our employees over, and trying to be really stealth about it.” I say this as somebody who has had a bank of 4-5 weeks of vacation and taken all of it every year. TBH, I don’t really wish I had more, I feel like I got enough. (I actually spend money on my vacations, so I’d need a raise to give me more spending money if I were to be gone more.)

    1. Positivity Boy*

      I think some companies do create the policy with good intentions to allow employees to more freely manage their own time, but as the article notes, you need to have really, really good managers and employees in order to make it work. I suspect those companies where it succeed and doesn’t just turn into managers secretly screwing their workers is rare.

      1. Dan*

        Fair enough. But, I’d like to know what problem they are trying to solve where implementing a policy that requires both REALLY good employees and REALLY good management is a good way to go.

        If the concern is employees who don’t have enough time banked, or they’re new, or whatever, consider a policy where one can “borrow” unlimited amounts, with the understanding that whatever negative balance is outstanding at separation is owed back to the company.

        For instance, the last two companies I’ve worked at allowed “borrowing” 40 hours. I had a preplanned trip when I started my current job, and because my vacation will exceed my accrued allowance PLUS the 40-hour “loan”, I will have to take a handful of unpaid days off.

        While “unlimited PTO” would ensure that I wouldn’t have to take unpaid leave, it would make me feel awkward about taking any more time later in the year. A higher cap on the “borrowing limit” would still allow me to get paid, while in the long run, having a minimal affect on stressing me out about taking vacation.

  28. Positivity Boy*

    I’d much prefer a generous vacation time policy to an unlimited one because it sets a better expectation for my employer about how much time I’m going to take. If my boss gives me 6 weeks of vacation time, he has no grounds to be surprised if that’s how much I end up taking – unless, of course, I decide to take it all at once and he deems that inappropriate for business purposes, but the same thing would be true even if I had unlimited time.

  29. Anonalicious*

    This would never have worked at my ex-company because there were too many people who abused what we had and they would have gone crazy with an unlimited bank. Of course the true issue is their managers won’t manage them appropriately, but that’s another story. I can see the attraction, but to me having a reasonable, flexible PTO plan, along with separating holidays and sick time, I think is more attractive. Most people really need to know what they have to work with.

    My current (semi-new) company has 3 weeks of PTO (15 days, we are all Mon – Fri) accrued during a 1 year period, with hours earned at the end of each pay period. Then we have a bank of 12 holiday days which is basically my company’s way of paying us for not working holidays. 6 of those days are the standard holidays. 3 of those days are days we are also closed in conjunction with the holiday such as the day after Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve, and Christmas Eve. Then we get 3 floating days we can use on a set of other holidays like Presidents’ Day, MLK Day, etc. We all pick those days at the start of the year so the schedule is pretty much set for the year. If a holiday falls on a weekend, we get the Monday after or the Friday before depending on if it’s a Sunday or Saturday. Since nearly everyone is exempt/salaried, we are paid for sick days up to 6 per year. After that you can take PTO to cover them or go unpaid. Unused PTO rolls over to the next year up to something like 4 months worth. Holiday and sick time is in your bank at the start of the year (or in my case when I started) and does not roll over.

    That plan, once you have accrued some days, makes it so you feel like you pretty much have unlimited time. No one is wasting it covering sick days, unless you have a lot of them, but even then with the ability to work from home, we’re mostly covered. I feel very lucky to be at this company and one of the reasons I accepted their offer was the flexibility of schedule and generous time off, among other things.

  30. KJR*

    Another thought here…we’ve mentioned the abusers a few times, but really, how would this be defined? How would Wakeen’s manager in Dept A make the determination that “Wakeen is taking too much time off,” whereas Janet in Department B is taking the same amount of time. Does Wakeen get written up, but Janet doesn’t? This would apply even more so if sick time was rolled into it. How do you determine whether someone’s sick time is excessive? Who’s call is it to make? Different people have different thresholds for illness. The idea sounds great in theory, but in reality is just too subjective to be fair to anyone, IMO. I am also in agreement with the other commenters who felt they (and others) would not take as much time as they have now, so it would most likely backfire in this way as well.

    1. NylaW*

      Typically people who are abusing any PTO policy end up being the under performers because they aren’t actually at work to do their jobs. They also put more pressure on their coworkers to cover their duties, which in turn can jeopardize timelines on other projects their coworkers would have been working on. It should be pretty easy to see who is using vacation time above and beyond the norm to the point where it is affecting their ability to get work done.

      1. KJR*

        Great point… so they would be called out for their under-performance rather than for their attendance. Makes sense.

      2. neverjaunty*

        But that doesn’t really address KJR’s point. Wakeen’s manager is strict and wants to see butts in chairs, so even if Wakeen is productive, he gets written up for taking five days off. Jane’s manager is more hands-off and takes the attitude that as long as the work gets done face time is less important, so Jane doesn’t get written up for taking exactly the same five days off.

        Also, super-subjective standards not only let bias creep in, they bless it. Wakeen takes time off to go watch the Superbowl, and his bosses think that’s cool, but when Jane wants time off to be with her kids over spring break, that’s an indication that she is Not Serious About Work and is on the “mommy track”.

        1. Anonymous*

          But “too much” doesn’t have to be an abuser. My husband’s company had an “unlimited sick leave” policy, but I always described it as being like American Express – there is a limit but no one knows what it is in advance. There have been multiple people who were paid for a year after their last day worked. I’m sure they really did have to be out for medical reasons and were not abusers, but I’m not so sure the owner would have been wrong to say that six months was long enough to pay someone who couldn’t work.

    2. a black man*

      “How would Wakeen’s manager in Dept A make the determination that “Wakeen is taking too much time off,” ”

      If Wakeen is achieving his performance goals, then he’s not taking too much time off. It’s not about one person taking more or less time off – it’s about the work they do.

      That’s the concept – with unlimited vacation time managers don’t look at total vacation time, they look at outputs and hitting goals.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        But don’t Wakeen’s goals get set higher?
        It would be nice if 5 people had identical levels of experience, skills, and output, but it never works that way. Companies that want unlimited vacation might be the same ones who want no granularity in titles–everyone is a developer, no developer 1-5.

        I think the unlimited vacation would have to force better management. People who can output more should get promotions, instead of more vacation than their slacker peers.

        1. JCC*

          >But don’t Wakeen’s goals get set higher?

          That’s exactly what unlimited vacation time is supposed to prevent — a negative reinforcement loop where people who come up with faster or more effective ways to do a job are “rewarded” with progressively more and more difficult and/or unpleasant work, until they learn, either consciously or unconsciously, that doing the job the inefficient way leads to a more pleasant time. It tends to lead to the worldview of Scotty the Star Trek Engineer :) —

  31. Holly*

    I’m seriously considering implementing an “unlimited” policy at our small non-profit, and finding a lot of these reactions coming up internally too. Good management, good employees, and a culture of actually taking vacation are all requisites for us making the switch (we’re currently at 5 weeks + sick + holidays and a week at the end of the year, pretty generous for the U.S. but less so for our team in Europe). In our case, I think what we’re actually looking for is a more flexible work schedule than a truly unlimited vacation offering, so I’ll probably adopt a policy somewhere in the middle – stop tracking time off by the hour and not be so tied to the 9-5 to better reflect the reality of the occasional 6am meeting (love time zones!), checking email on weekends, and on the flip side, taking care of personal things during “business hours” – all focusing more on what and how work is happening instead of when and where.

    I introduced this notion to be a benefit for employees (really!), and we’ve been having really interesting discussions internally about the pros and cons – our team is definitely intrigued, but also know themselves well enough to know that they’ll be less likely to take vacation, which has led to bigger conversations about creating a culture of time off and all of us respecting that time away, and what we expect for each other’s availability (given that our team is small without always a lot of duplication, and most of us feeling ownership to the extent we’d rather get the call or text).

  32. AB Normal*

    I’ve just took a job that has that policy — my amount of vacation is between me and my manager. What I intend to do is to treat it as having 15 days of vacation (what I had in my previous job), and not worry if I need to take a day here or there.

    I’ve always used all my vacation to travel, and will not stop doing so just because it’s up to me and my manager to decide when to take time off!

    I work in a type of job in which if I’m not there, nobody has to cover for me (each person works in their own projects, and as long as I make sure the downstream people have work that can only be done once I’ve finished my part, there should be no impact in the firm or my colleagues of my taking time off, so I’m looking forward to this new policy!

  33. Worker Bee*

    Is it just me or does this remind anyone else “kids need boundaries”. Especially when thinking of people right out of school.

    Personally I do like the idea of getting to decide my working hours by achieving my goals. But this only works since I am an account and I have very specific deadlines like months end / years end / tax filing season. But coming to holidays this is a nightmare. I am the only person in my role and noone to cover, so it just piles up and I actually would take less holidays. Because when I go on vacation (one or two weeks in a row) I have to get approval from boss, who I can teach the basic basic accounting to at least cover that. And then I already feel bad, that I am adding to their workload.

  34. Marmite*

    My employer has what I think is a good compromise between unlimited vacation time and a set policy. Everyone is entitled to 30 days vacation (paid) per year. Everyone can also use flexi-time to accrue additional (paid) time off, so, for example, work an hour extra Monday-Thursday and then work a half day on Friday. I quite often work slightly longer days for a few weeks in the run up to school holidays and then take a couple of days off to hang out with my kid during his school holidays.

  35. Veronica*

    Our company has unlimited PTO and over the almost 5 years I’ve been here, we’ve had maybe 1 employee take advantage. Like you said, it’s important to have strong managers to make sure employees are pulling their weight, but the pluses far outweigh the minuses in my opinion. It is clear in our employee handbook that vacation does NOT get paid out because it does not get accrued. So people know that there is no pay out at the end, but they have the flexibility of being able to take time off when needed without getting flak or having time restraints. Our limit for max days taken is 10 business days, and after that, they revert to sick days. From all of my exit surveys, our PTO policy is the highest rated policy/plan we have, and a lot of the reason why we retain employees. I think it makes people feel appreciated and in turn they have an appreciation for the company and will tend to work better. While it may not be for everyone, I see it becoming a progressive trend in the workplace that I hope will continue to grow.

    1. Veronica*

      Whoops, I meant our max amount of days for one period of vacation time taken off is 10 days.

  36. Juli G.*

    Question for those with this in place, how is it handled for non-exempt employees?

    Someone floated this idea at my company abstractly around exempt employees because it seemed to make sense. Exempt employees might work 70 hours/week for two months so why shouldn’t they feel like they can take a couple days off after the project is done even if they used all their vacation time? No one could figure out how to make it work with non exempt employees though.

    1. Schnauz*

      How I think about it is this – whether you’re paying someone hourly or yearly, you expect them to work roughly X hours for X pay. So for both, whether they worked 20 hours & took 20 hours of vacation, they’re still getting 40 hours of pay right? Where the real difference is in OT. Hourly workers get OT if they work more than 40 hours in a pay week. So, if we’re all adults here (the nominal reason for “unlimited” pto) then management pays competitive wages & reminds exempt workers that their salary already includes an estimate of OT worked in the year. This is why exempt make the “big” bucks right? Or, they maintain tight control of OT by non-exempt to point that OT is minimal or non-existent.

  37. Legal jobs*

    Ultimately reading the comments it is clear a lot of this is culture

    Americans view work, leasure and family time differently than Europeans or even Canadians

    For example, one of the nastier aspects of my profession is it tries force a choice between work and family. Work life balance is I heard of in the US. But I have heard it exists with lawyers abroad.

    So while this to me seemed like an interesting idea, I’m now not as sure

  38. Anon*

    Someone noted the trend of unlimited vacation policies in tech companies in Silicon Valley. As commented, the company certainly benefits by not having to pay out employees accrued vacation time when they terminates.

    However, another reason why smaller start-ups structure their policy this way is that they appear more attractive to potential companies who are looking for acquisitions – for traditional vacation plans, the combined unused vacation time for all employees is a liability on their books that has to be considered in many states, including California.

    Now, acquisition decisions are not made by looking at the financial health alone, but also on the business plans, product(s), potential to grow in the market, fit with a larger company’s model, etc. But, it could sweeten the pot.

    If you have equity in a smaller tech start-up and your company gets bought, there’s definitely a possibility for a windfall. A friend I know was at a firm for less than 6 months in a mid-level role and her equity when they got bought came out to $200k. People who were there for 5 years made millions – literally.

    As everyone commented above, there are lots and lots of reasons why companies opt for unlimited vacation plans, but hoped to provide some additional context into one reason why it’s common in the tech space.

    That said, having candid and frank conversations during the interview process to see how it plays out in reality is key and should give you a sense of whether or not an unlimited vacation policy is right for you.

  39. Anon*

    I worked for a company with this policy for a short time. When I was hired, Hr touted it heavily as a huge benefit to employees. In reality, it sucked. There was so much work, no one ever felt that they could take time off. My manager was pretty good and told me I could take 3 weeks for the year. My friend with a diff manager was given crap for requesting 1 day off, after not having taken ANY in 6 months. Overall the company had a horrible culture and I left after 6 months. I think the policy worked great for managers (who often took long vacations) but for the regular staff, they got screwed. I heard they switched to the policy because somehow it helped the company financially to stop tracking accrued PTO. Also, those who had accrued time when they switched lost it all and were not paid out for what they had banked. Overall the company really treated their employees like crap.

  40. Mena*

    My company adopted this policy and we are still feeling it out. The huge benefit to the company is that there are no banked hours – nothing that sits as a liability on the books and nothing to payout when people leave the company.

    The benefit to me is that I could work a lot fewer hours and still get my job done thoroughly, and now I can.

  41. anon*

    I have friends who work at companies offering unlimited PTO, however they say that the requests for time off take a very long time to approve through the management chain – and it’s not uncommon they are flat-out rejected. I’d rather see companies move towards enforcing all employees to take off at least 2-3 weeks minimum per year like in Europe. What’s the use of unlimited if it’s never approved and if you’re expected to be plugged in at all times?

  42. Schnauz*

    I am amazed by the number of people who would feel guilty about their coworkers needing to cover their absences. Do you all also resent when you cover for your coworkers?

    I do my best to make suggestions for how we can cover for unexpected contingencies like snow storms, ot just covering while someone is on vacation. I work with good people who as well & management isn’t always responsive but they also won’t fire us because a deadline is missed while shorthanded. So, I look at it this way – I don’t make the final decisions. So long as I’ve done my due diligence to point out problems and suggest solutions then why should i feel guilty when higher ups ignore the possible consequences? I don’t, it’s not my fault & I don’t blame my coworkers when they take off too. I blame management if anyone. Mostly when others say, “doesn’t it make you mad when you have to take up slack for someone who called in sick”? I say “hell no” we all get sick, we’re all human and there are only so many hours in my work day, you can only add so much extra – what’s it to me whether you filled gaps due to someone sick or due to last minute client requests? As long as someone is not abusing the system or trying to take credit for my work, I couldn’t care less.

  43. Shortie*

    I used to work at a place with “unlimited” vacation time, which meant you were given crap for taking more than five days off per year (combined sick and vacation). I was out for a week due to emergency surgery–and really should have been out for two–and then my boss complained when I requested a single (yes, one!) vacation day. She said something like, “Haven’t you taken off a lot lately?” Um, a week recovering from emergency surgery isn’t exactly vacation! I’m not allowed to take one vacation day per year?!

    Now in a different job, I get 4 weeks of vacation per year and 2 weeks of sick leave. It is muuucchhh better to have things spelled out. Now I know exactly what the rules are and all employees are treated equally. I use all of my vacation (usually a week at a time so as not to get crazy behind) and rarely use my sick leave.

  44. tickledpink*

    What about school leavers / recent grads who could see it the same way as school holidays? There would be grads taking really long holidays because they thought unlimited meant whenever they want without requesting, for as long as they want without cover, affecting their reputation negatively without them realising, and then the other problem of not requesting time off would be worse as the employer could ask the employee to come back to work since they weren’t on vacation, then the grad would shoot unlimited back at them! Call that exaggerated and twisted, but its what I reckon. There’s enough problems with allotted vacation periods and education leavers.

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