unlimited vacationBy MARY PATRICK

Many companies are adopting a new policy that seemed unthinkable not that long ago – allowing employees to take an unlimited amount of time for vacation.

Most companies taking this approach are tech startups, but larger companies – such as Netflix, Best Buy and Morningstar – have also adopted the policy. Some are doing so because there are studies that find spending time away from the office and taking more frequent breaks actually increases productivity.

There also is a cost associated with keeping track of every employee’s vacation time, how much has been taken and how much remains for the year. There also is the cost at some companies of paying people for unused vacation time.

These companies seem unconcerned about employees violating the policy and taking too much vacation.

“You just treat people like professionals and like adults, and 99% of the time they’ll act that way,” Mike Southern, the head of human resources at software firm PatientKeeper, told The Boston Globe.

On its’ website, Netflix explains that they opted to offer employees “limitless vacation time” after an employee pointed out that the company doesn’t track hours worked per day or per week, so why track vacation days per year?

The post on the Netflix website continues, “We should focus on what people get done, not on how many days worked. Just as we don’t have a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday policy, we don’t need a vacation policy. There is also no clothing policy at Netflix, but no one comes to work naked. Lesson: You don’t need policies for everything.”

Having unlimited vacation time also allows employees – many of whom only have two weeks at many companies – to ease the strain in the second half of the year when many have already used up vacation time for the kids’ spring break, long weekends during the summer and doctor’s appointments.

However, an editorial in the Christian Science Monitor points out that the benefits of “limitless vacation” might not be what they seem. The editorial pointed out that in some competitive environments, having no mandated vacation means that some will never take a vacation.

Some employees will also be concerned that those who take less or even no vacation will be seen more favorably by management. Some companies have combatted those fears by offering incentives to take vacations. For example, Evernote offers $1,000 to any employee who takes a full week off to go on a vacation out of town (no “staycations”). HubSpot has an informal, “two weeks to infinity” vacation policy.

An article in Slate also points out that the companies offering unlimited vacation are giving to the option to employees they are confident won’t take the time off. David DeLong, a workplace consultant, told the Boston Globe that many of the people at companies with “limitless vacation” time are those with A-type personalities who won’t take the time off.

“The paradox is people who are successful and driven enough to land jobs in these companies are likely to be overly responsible and hard working, so that they’re less likely to take the vacation even though it’s there,” DeLong said.

He has a good point. Forbes recently reported that a survey from Harris Interactive of over 2,500 adults working in major U.S. cities found 57% of salaried workers don’t take all of their vacation time. And that is in a country where employers have no mandate to provide a minimum amount of vacation days. Most United States companies offer an average of just two vacation weeks per year. In contrast, companies in France, Italy, Germany and Brazil must provide workers 35 to 40 days off a year.

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