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The concept of unlimited vacation or “no vacation policy” is becoming a popular idea. Large companies like IBM, HubSpot, and Netflix have kicked the standard two-week vacation policy to the curb.

Over the years, we’ve worked with many organization, big and small, to help them implement a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE). A big part of this process is helping management and employees understand what it takes to make a “no vacation policy” actually work.

Naturally, people love the idea of unlimited vacation. You hear about it and you want it for yourself. But it’s easy to say, harder to do. “We’re going to have unlimited vacation from now on!” just doesn’t cut it.

Management expects employees to jump for joy, but instead what we find is that employees and leadership have a lot of questions and concerns. We hear things like:

“What do you mean? You’re taking away my vacation?”

“How will I ever take a vacation then?”

“Is this just a sneaky way to get me to work MORE?”

Work culture needs to be ready for this reaction and prepare carefully for it. From experience, we know that it takes these 3 things to make unlimited vacation policies actually work.

1. Re-think the “8 to 5, Monday through Friday” work culture

People are working at odd times, even in an 8-5 “work at the office” environment. You’re checking email before bed. You’re answering a call or question over the weekend. Do you submit vacation time if you don’t work Friday, but then work on Saturday?

Start by analyzing the reasons why you have employees account for vacation time. Ask yourself: “Does time automatically equal results?”

2. Don’t take away vacation time “cold turkey”

We want to stress a key point here: The problem is not vacation. It’s tracking vacation time that is the problem. One way to ease into this new policy is to stop tracking vacation time in little chunks (ie., 2 hours/4 hours, or 1 day here and there).

Some companies account for vacation by days or weeks; some track in such small increments as 2 or 4 hours. Others lump all vacation, sick, and personal time into one big bucket of Paid Time Off (PTO). So if I need to visit the dentist in the afternoon, I might have to submit 4 hours of vacation time or PTO – even if I do my work that night.

Eventually you’ll start to see that it becomes blurry as to when to track “time off” at all. If I choose to take a 4-day weekend, but I’m emailing and checking voicemail to keep the work flowing, why should I submit vacation time? I’m meeting my results. Or, if I unplug completely after 1 pm on Thursday, but I plan ahead to make sure my results are being achieved, do I submit 4 hours of vacation time or PTO?

3. Communicate a future goal of when vacation time will not be tracked

It’s important to communicate with staff a timeline of future goals. It takes people time to adjust. It takes time to stop banking those vacation days, like it’s a savings plan or a badge of honor. “Look at how much money I’ll get when I leave this joint!” or “I have 2 months of vacation time! I am so busy and important I can’t even take time off!”

It takes time to realize all of the BENEFITS of rejecting tracked vacation time. People become aware that it’s a liability to the organization–it’s an amount that has to be carried on the books for payout.

It takes time to realize that there is NO PRICE you can put on having control of your own time.  In our experience, employees stop caring about the payout they might get because they’re just happier and more satisfied with their job. We’ve had clients look back to their days before they were a ROWE and say: Keeping track of vacation time was ludicrous!

Ultimately, employees feel more connected to the success of the organization in a bigger way.  They feel accountable. They are treated like adults, not like little children that need a hall pass to use the restroom.

(A quick note about our webinar this week: We’re really excited about the topic for the webinar on March 29 – “How to Manage Gen Y to Maximize Performance.” Jody Thompson is presenting and you won’t want to miss it. There a few spots still open, so sign-up today!) 

Original blog reposted here with permission

What’s keeping your company or organization from letting go of tracking vacation time? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!


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