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August 10, 2011

Unlimited Vacations? Is the Boss Trying to Trick Me?

What would you do if your boss called everybody into a meeting and said "From now on, there is no allotted vacation time. You can have as much time as you want."

Would a stopwatch be able to measure the time it takes for you to be out the door, putting on sunscreen, and buying your ticket to Bermuda? Or would it be more like Speedy Gonzalez, faster than the eye can see?

(Thanks to Digital Citizen)

Not so fast, say some experts.

It may be the perk that nobody ever takes advantage of.

According to this week's Macleans magazine (no article online yet, but I'm sure it will pop up soon. I'll come back here and link it when it does), more and more companies around the world are offering this perk.

And fewer people than expected take advantage of it.

(I'm typing this, so errors are mine)
"For tired, overworked employees, it sounds like a dream come true: a job that offers the potential for unrestricted holidays. Forget the era of saving up precious vacation days. Instead, a growing number of companies now offer unlimited time off for their employees. But as the trend catches on, workplace psychologists warn unlimited vacations may not be the unbounded perk they seem."
It's true, especially in this economy, but also even if we had good economic conditions.

But why are companies offering this perk?

For one thing, the line between work time and leisure time is increasingly blurring. The article points out that this makes it hard for companies to track when an employee is working and not working. Instead, they insist that the employees "excel when they're on the job and meet deadlines," but otherwise they are free to take vacation as they see fit.

The other reason I think this line-blurring has come to this is because increasingly employees are expected to be available remotely, even if they are on vacation. If only to deal with something that comes up at the office.

My boss goes on a lot of business trips, but he also takes vacation too. But whether he's travelling on business or for pleasure, he still checks his email once a day (usually) and deals with any fires that can't wait until he comes back. He's on-call almost all the time, which can't be fun.

With the advent of Blackberries, iPhones, and the like, and as they are increasingly used for business purposes, employees are expected to be available a lot more than they used to be.

Let's get back to the article, though.

The reason that many psychologists feel that this perk is less than it appears is because of the work culture in the company, especially in the days of a bad economy. Sure, you're able to take as many vacation days as you want, but are you going to when Bob on the other side of the cubicle is putting in 16-hour days, six days a week? If you're gone for seven weeks out of the year and that's what your co-worker is like, you're not going to compare very well to him, are you?

In a bad economy, taking that vacation when co-workers aren't may mean the difference between whether or not you keep your job. The competitiveness that we all have, especially in a business environment, will pull you back from taking those vacation days.

And then there are the workaholics, who often don't even use the set number of days that they're given in the first place.
"In a company with no set rules for vacations, workaholics, who make up 30 to 35 per cent of the North American workforce, are more likely to succumb to their paranoia and may in fact take even less time off."
Companies like it because before they were paying out for that unused vacation time (not all companies do that, of course). Now, with no set allotment, they don't have to pay that extra expense.

So what do you think about this? If you were offered unlimited vacation time, as long as you performed your work well, would you take the boss up on it? Or would you be even less likely to take vacation time?

If you're self-employed, you already have this, with the obvious caveat that the more you're away from doing your work, the less successful (if not outright failure) you're going to be. Nobody's paying you vacation pay. But what do you think about this as a general concept?

Do you already work in this environment? If so, I'd really like to get your thoughts.


  1. I'm self-employed and have been for almost 20 years, off and on. That means that I don't take vacations. I should, but I don't. That's going to start changing, though, because I finally realized what a disservice I was doing to myself. We need time off to recharge and to heal, to rest and rejuventate.

    The companies that are incorporating this new unlimited vacation policy are playing head games and treating their employees poorly, in my opinion. The corporation is the one who will win and the employees are the ones who will suffer. You pointed out, clearly, the pitfalls - the economy being so poor will have people working themselves even more aggressively into an early grave just to keep their job.

    I think the whole concept is WRONG. People who do their jobs deserve to have clearly defined compensation in the form of sick days and vacation days. They shouldn't be put under a personal headman's noose to never take time off that they've worked for and deserve, simply for fear that it will reflect poorly on them for raises or for keeping their job.

    Epic *Dislike* on this concept, in my opinion.

    (another Dawnie rant, of the fairly minor variety, Dave!)


  2. Yes, I totally agree that self-employed people need to remember that their batteries can run down too. They're not going to do the best for their business if they work themselves into a frenzy with no real breaks.

    And this is exactly what I was hoping for! Not necessarily for or against the concept, but just a well-thought out response to the whole thing.

    It's a little extra goodness that it comes in the form of a Dawnie rant. :)


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