How’d you like unlimited vacation days?

(Associated Press)

(Associated Press)

What would you do if you had an unlimited number of vacation days?

While some would call this unemployment, there are companies that embrace this radical approach giving employees a break – Netflix among them.

According to an MSNBC.com report on the practice, companies offering unlimited vacations don’t have to worry about the hassles of violating HR policies and keeping track of accrued time off.

The key, however, is accountability.

“Organizations that have had success with unlimited vacation, such as Netflix and Red Frog Events, rely strongly on accountability,” management consultant Matthew Stegmeier told MSNBC. “Employees must make sure all their responsibilities are covered prior to leaving, which often means counting on a colleague to pick up the slack.”

The work environment also must be big on self-motivation and self-discipline, and companies must have “mature high-performance employees,” according to Netflix co-founder and CEO Reed Hastings . In an April commentary on Bloomberg, Hastings said:

We focus on what people get done, not on how many days they worked. Prior to 2004 we had the standard vacation model, until we realized no one was tracking how many hours in a day they worked. … I make sure to take lots of vacation to set a good example, and I do some of my creative thinking on vacation.

There aren’t a flood of businesses rushing to revamp their current HR policies, but companies that have unlimited vacations swear by it, including tech startup Coupa, TheLadders employment service, WeddingWire.com and Social Strata in Seattle.

Is it a concept whose time has arrived?

43 comments Add your comment

Not First

July 19th, 2012
2:14 pm

People who post First as some sort of a competition on an AJC blog should jump off a cliff.

that being said, im not sure how this would actually work, i mean, you are PAID to work.

MrLiberty

July 19th, 2012
2:16 pm

My company has been laying so many people off and not replacing them even with temps that we all are working so hard that even taking the vacation days I do get is near impossible. I am not even sure what “making sure your responsiblities are covered prior to leaving” means. Work doesn’t stop when I go on vacation. There is nobody to handle my work. It just piles up and is there when I get back. Like far too many co-workers, time off includes logging in from home to catch up on email and do the critical stuff despite supposedly being on vacation. And I work for a huge multi-national corporation. Seems like what I should be doing on my vacations is looking for a new job.

MrsL

July 19th, 2012
2:22 pm

My Atlanta based company just went to this model and while it takes getting used to, people love it. It’s meant to show that employees are trusted to be responsible with their time, and to take away the burden of worrying about things like needing days off for sick kids. Only works for results-oriented companies. Places that only care about activity management will never get it.

Sara Tonin

July 19th, 2012
2:38 pm

Sounds interesting, but the hiring process must be air tight in order to get the “mature high-performance employees” needed to make the system work. These days most companies have a large applicant pool to draw from, but at the same time most advertise they are an “EEOC employer.” The conundrum there is true “mature high-performance employees” are few and far between. However, there are many slugs out there who believe in their own minds they are. Cut ‘em out and they run to the nearest EEOC office and file complaint after ludicrous complaint. Glad I don’t work in HR.

Patrick

July 19th, 2012
2:43 pm

Joey M

July 19th, 2012
2:44 pm

Netflix just jumped to the top of the list of companies I’m going to beg to hire me when I finish my degree.

John

July 19th, 2012
3:00 pm

US companies (my employer in particular) expect to be able to call AND reach employees any time of the day, when an employee is on vacation and on weekends. Take off whenever you want? Sure, what the hell. We’ll call you if we need you, trust me.

Horton

July 19th, 2012
3:06 pm

I work for a company that gives 18 days off the first year of employment, and employees can carry over as much as four weeks vacation. We also work four ten-hour days and have every Friday off. What I have observed while working here is that everyone is much more productive and happy. And when employees are happy the company does much better. Finally I have a job that I can honestly say I love. I wish everyone could.

jeff

July 19th, 2012
3:09 pm

@Not First – that being said, im not sure how this would actually work, i mean, you are PAID to work.

They are paying you to work and as long as you get your work done on time it doesn’t matter HOW you get it done. I’m and independent contractor and I have to do this for my own work because I don’t get PTO but I can (and frequently do) work 36- 40 hours in 3 days to take a long weekend or week off. My work is project-based which makes this possible. Obviously the type of work you do would determine your ability to take vacation as wanted.

Ash

July 19th, 2012
3:12 pm

While this is an “innovative policy” don’t be mistaken about the intent. Accrued vacation represents a huge liability on many companies balance sheets. It’s especially onerous for CA based companies (as they can not change vacation terms without certain payouts to CA based employees). FYI- Netflix is in CA.

So i agree that responsible companies with accountable employees can use this policy as a great benefit, the benevolence of the policy is tempered with the financial relief accrued vacation provides to the company…

TennesseeDawg

July 19th, 2012
3:26 pm

It’s all well and good until you get stuck with the one employee who keeps taking vacation and asking you to cover all the time.

Cobb

July 19th, 2012
3:28 pm

I agree, it will only work for some companies (private). Hospitals? Police Departments? Schools? I guess it only works for those who have a “desk job” and don’t have to physically (in-person) interact with people day to day. I’m sure most government desk job employees would love this one since we, the taxpayers, are paying the burden. The accrued vacation liability comment is a good one, Ash.

OTP

July 19th, 2012
3:34 pm

Can anyone name some companies that do this?

employee

July 19th, 2012
3:36 pm

news flash: they’ve been doing this for years. it’s called working in the restaurant industry. do the work or get it covered and everyone is happy.

CDW

July 19th, 2012
3:40 pm

There is a big leap in corporate thinking from “paid to be here” to “paid to accomplish”, and until that shift happens, the companies with innovative policies will be few and far between. Even in these times of doing the job that used to be spread out over 2 or more people, I have days when I’ve finished my projects by lunch time, but b/c I’m “paid to be here”, I just sit.

MrLiberty

July 19th, 2012
3:44 pm

Horton – Great comments and keen observations. Funny how the rest of us can figure out the obvious links between employee satisfaction and productivity and yet THEY are the managers and they cannot.

Tami

July 19th, 2012
3:51 pm

In theory, it’s a great idea — much the same as working the 4 10-hour day and splitting your team into two groups — one group gets Friday off, and the other group gets Monday off. The same could also be said of those companies that just come up with PTO (paid time off), mixing together your designated vacation days that you’ve earned and are eligible for along with your sick time. The theory behind the latter is if your sick time is the same as your vacation time, you’ll think longer and harder before taking a day or two off because you’re “sick”. A LOT of employers are very slow to come around to this sort of thinking, if they ever get there at all. And a poster here mentioned that it only applies to desk jobs, and they would be right. Although a good idea in theory, not sure if it will ever happen.

Tami

July 19th, 2012
3:52 pm

CORRECTION: I meant to say in my opening comment — “as working the 4, 10-hour work WEEK. Sorry about that.

Sara Tonin's EVIL

July 19th, 2012
3:58 pm

Sara Tonin I am glad I dont work with you… Spit the Koolaid out and look around you those employees are developed and more than likely everywhere around you.. You sound SOOO important you may not notice… You are a joke.

Tag

July 19th, 2012
4:04 pm

As it says “Accountability and production” if you aren’t and don’t your fired.

ROWE

July 19th, 2012
4:11 pm

This is a part of a Results Only Work Environment, where your ONLY focus is on the RESULTS. You manage the WORK, not the TIME. Who cares how you spend your time as long as the work gets DONE and the results match or exceed expecatations? Not everyone needs 40+ hours a week to get something done. I know I don’t. And this weeds out the slackers who uses time as a crutch for not producing results. Gets rid of the notion you have to be present to produce results. And with the technolgy today, that’s easy to do. And it’s takes TRUST, of which a lot of managers don’t have. They just manage and they are not really leaders in the true sense of the word.

To: Sara Tonin's EVIL

July 19th, 2012
4:13 pm

You obviously are not one of the high achievers.
Your comment has terrible grammar, spelling and your second sentence is unintelligible.
Go back to middle school and start again.

Christopher Seward

July 19th, 2012
4:14 pm

To OTP: Tech startup Coupa, TheLadders employment service, WeddingWire.com and Social Strata in Seattle.

just me

July 19th, 2012
4:23 pm

I would ruin it for everyone. I would only work Tues-Thurs. I’d basically be working a part time job.

To: Sara Tonin's EVIL

July 19th, 2012
4:24 pm

PS You probably don’t get the pun of Sara’s name.

Cammi317

July 19th, 2012
4:36 pm

I haven’t had a set number of vacation days since I was 27, 13 years ago! I usually take a week during the summer to take my daughter on vacation and a day here or there for personal/sick days or a 3 day weekend. At the end of the year, it usually amounts to around 3 weeks. I would feel guilty taking off more time then that.

Lucky

July 19th, 2012
4:53 pm

I work for a Fortune 500 company that has moved to unlimited vacation day for executives and professional staff. We’ve had this for three years, and nobody has taken advantage of it. It works really well, as vacation/sick days, etc. are no longer an issue.

Lucky

July 19th, 2012
4:54 pm

Let me add, we got this three years ago in lieu of raises. In retrospect, I don’t know anyone who would have rather had the raise.

Sally

July 19th, 2012
4:56 pm

This type of vacation policy would work well with 100% commissioned sales employees. They’re only going to get paid for what they sell so if they can make their goals and have a day or two at the end of the week to take off they can. Since they’d still have to be available should a situation arise, it’s really only as good a vacation as the pre-planning and coordination that went into it. It certainly makes sense to offer non-paid vacation to employees so people don’t take advantage of the system and I agree with it being made available to established and mature high-performance employees. This system wouldn’t work for hourly or most salaried employees.

LoganvilleGuy

July 19th, 2012
4:56 pm

I love how “Cobb” had to take a swipe at government employees with his comment.

What employee wouldn’t like this concept? Private sector or government… I’m willing to bet you wouldn’t find many refusing to embrace it.

AMiles

July 19th, 2012
4:57 pm

At my last company, they would lay off people for lame reasons, example: “We don’t know what to do with your department.” EVERYONE worked to pick up the slack.
Some more than others.

After laying off entire sales teams, I was given 25,000 (yes that is correct) accounts to manage. No one wanted to help my accounts while I was on vacation so I would come back after 2 days off with 60+ unanswered vmsgs and a full inbox. I stayed late, worked weekends, and instead of rewarding me for picking up the slack while still (noticeably) growing sales, they fired me because they wanted to restructure. They ended up hiring 3 other people to do my job!

If I had worked for a company with this policy, I would have gotten the necessary help and taken more than a day or two of vacation at a time. I would not have been sick as much and would have functioned better.

Lucky

July 19th, 2012
5:15 pm

Most of the professional and executive staff at my company work from home, and nobody cares what hours are kept. We are all available via iPhone and make appointments for times we need to meet. Most days, I get up around five and put in five hours of solid work in the morning, then have most of the day free to do what I want. I also work at night and put in several hours on the weekends. Ultimately, I probably put more hours in than someone who commutes to work and sits in an office eight hours a day, and don’t waste time in my car, but pretty much have as much time to do whatever I want whenever I want. I’ve been with this company for ten years, and have survived numerous layoffs, so obviously I’m producing under these allowances.

Jacket88

July 19th, 2012
5:26 pm

OK, all of you whiners. Start your own company and put into effect any vacation / time off policy that you wish. You should also only hire women. I hear that they can do the same work as men and you only have to pay then 85% of man’s salary :)

Lucky

July 19th, 2012
5:31 pm

@Jacket88 – The downfall of your plan is that they are also more likely to stop working for long periods of time to raise children, and then rejoin the workforce without the current skills and years of experience as their male counterparts. When women who did not leave the workforce are compared to men who did not leave the workforce, that pay inequality disappears.

Jacket88

July 19th, 2012
5:39 pm

@Lucky…Are you sure? I’ve read many articles from the AJC that says it is true…

Happy employee

July 19th, 2012
5:56 pm

I work at Netflix. I love this “policy.” The first year, it was hard to take vacation, and people would joke that the “no vacation policy” meant we just didn’t ever take vacation. But upper management really does set an example by not only taking vacation, but coming back refreshed, more creative, and more aligned with the business. I don’t think this would work everywhere. But it works here, because it plays to our culture of Freedom and Responsibility. I have the freedom to take as many days off as I want, but the responsibility to get my job done.
As for the question about nurses, restaurant workers, line workers, etc: this only applies to salaried workers at Netflix.

Reed

July 19th, 2012
5:57 pm

Love how the Netflix CEO is setting such a good example by taking lots of vacation. Perhaps he was at the beach when they came up with that stupid Qwikster idea.

Lucky

July 19th, 2012
6:04 pm

Yes. There is self serving propaganda that whiners often cite, but when you look at the same people with the same educational and work experience in the same jobs, the gender pay gap disappears. In fact, women just out of college actually, on average, now earn more than men just out of college, when comparing the same positions. Couple that with more women than men now graduating college, and it’s obvious that market forces seem to drive pay.

Gator Actual

July 19th, 2012
7:16 pm

Um, isn’t this called The Government?

Cassie

July 19th, 2012
8:53 pm

Sounds like being self-employed. I can take off as much time as I want whenever I want, but that doesn’t change the fact that there’s a job to be done.

With the right people, it’s a great idea. With the wrong ones, it’s a disaster.

jane

July 19th, 2012
9:30 pm

I work for a company that has this policy and most employees and managers think it’s totally stupid. Yes, we are “results oriented” and everyone has flex time and we telecommute heavily and work all hours and all that stuff. The policy is subject to serious abuse on both sides. Employees can disappear for many days and it becomes extremely difficult to discipline them (I personally know a manager who experienced this). Managers can load up employees to the point where there is never an opportune for them to leave (work is never “done”). Under the usual policies, when an employee is “owed” some amount of vacation time, the manager has to allow it at some point or they are in trouble with HR. With “unlimited” vacation, this can actually mean no vacation and there is no recourse. The good (fair) managers with good employees also hate the policy because it is hard to administer while retaining a perception of fairness. Also, it is hard for new employees who don’t know the “lay of the land” and are not sure how much time off it’s okay to ask for or whether they will be perceived negatively for taking “too much” (or any) time off.

HR departments make it sound great on paper but it’s really just an accounting gimmick so that the company doesn’t have to carry vacation time as a liability on their books. There is nothing else good about it.

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JLM

July 22nd, 2012
8:31 am

My company has a similar policy, it’s called Voluntary Time Off. You’re not there, you don’t get paid. But you get to calm your mental state, there’s the plus!