The Unlimited Vacation Conundrum...


As I was having my morning coffee the other day and thinking about how nice it would be to be laying on a beach at that moment(can't wait until that's possible again!), I found myself remembering a case study that I was once a part of regarding how companies manage vacation time for their employees. It wasn't so much the strategies they used that I remembered, but more the results that those strategies had on the performance of their teams and the culture of their organizations.

I am someone who has always loved to travel, and vacations have always been very important to me, something to look forward to and be motivated by... so I was very interested to find out what this case study was all about. I learned far more than I expected I would, and have forever viewed "time off" differently as a result.

I learned about how people viewed vacation time, either as a reward, or as something owed to them for time put in. I learned that everyone is motivated by different things and I learned that there are so many people in business who actually feel guilty about taking vacation time!

While studying the companies that were presented as having implemented an unlimited vacation policy, there was one thing that stood out to me more than anything... their vacation policy had started out as a part of employee compensation, and turned into a performance management tool. This hadn't been the intention of any of the companies, in most cases the people working there didn't realize it, and in some cases the management of the companies didn't even realize what was happening. Regardless, the new policy was not just giving people as much time off as they wanted.... It was changing the way that people worked, it was affecting their productivity, their relationships, and most of all, their standing in the organization.

"Unlimited vacation" could land so many different ways with employees... For the super motivated person it's the ultimate reward, work hard and take off as much time as I want . For the person lacking confidence in how they are viewed by management, it is terrifying for them to think about how they could be viewed for taking too much time. For the low performer, it could backfire if they take as much time as the high performer yet their results aren't as good. Last, for the person who feels guilty taking vacation, it is a demotivator as they feel it is a carrot that is being dangled as they never took their allotted time to begin with. All of these were real scenarios in the studied companies and all had to be worked through.

I find this all to be very interesting and something I wish that more companies would explore. Why not make it known to the organization that you are allowed to take as much time off as you would like as long as results are strong? Why not mandate that people must take a minimum amount of time in order to qualify for incentives? Why not encourage people to spend more time with family, friends and away from work. As the world continues to become more available 24/7, and with the new shift of more and more people working from home, I believe that programs like "unlimited time off" will be instrumental in driving results and culture in high performing organizations.

Last, have a look at an example of a flow chart that was created showing what might happen with certain types of people under a policy like "Unlimited Vacation" and let me know what you think by leaving comments below!



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