‘Unlimited Vacation’ Not So Unlimited For Some

The WSJ looks at the practice of open-ended vacation plans, or the idea that employees can take as much time as they need as long as their work gets done. (One media company that does this fairly well is The Motley Fool, covered elsewhere on this site. In fact, The Motley Fool even requires random employees to take time off, through a monthly lottery that gives one winner per month two consecutive weeks of vacation.)

At some employers, this works well: “Some employers promote this as liberating, saying their workplaces are so flexible that old-fashioned constraints such as assigned time off aren’t needed. But others say the lack of guidelines fuels a tendency to work all the time.”

Workers fear that without having their butts in their cubes, they might be the first laid off during their employers’ next reduction in force. And leaving a pile of work for coworkers just means there’s more to do on your return, others said. The WSJ again:

“Although Jason Evanish of Boston had unlimited vacation time at a previous employer, ‘it was really hard to walk away,’ because staffing was so lean, he says. Even on the few vacation days he took, ‘you’re always kind of stressed, not only because you’ll have a tremendous amount of work when you return, but because you worry about holding back other members of the team,’ says Mr. Evanish, co-founder of GreenhornConnect.com, a website for entrepreneurs.”

The other downside to unlimited vacation: it’s unlimited as long as the work gets done. This leads to a lot of surreptitious smartphone checking while at the beach.

Some managers are trying everything they can to get their employees out the door for just a little R&R. The Motley Fool’s lottery system, mentioned above, has given employees excuses to climb mountains or build treehouses. (Part of the deal is that the employee has to tell everyone what she did after she gets back; nobody wants to “be the one who says, ‘I watched ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and sat on the couch for two weeks,'” a newsletter editor told the WSJ.)

Apolinaras Sinkevicius, director of operations at Pixability, took a different tack: he started offering employees extra paid vacation for anyone ballsy enough to take two weeks of vacation at a time. So take two weeks, get four weeks. That’s a deal we can live with. Are they hiring?