Take a vacation — whenever you want!

Ashley Milne-Tyte Aug 5, 2011

Take a vacation — whenever you want!

Ashley Milne-Tyte Aug 5, 2011

Tess Vigeland: I took a couple of days off earlier this week. Just enough for a little R&R. Lucky for me, my employer paid me for those days. I’m well aware not everyone is so fortunate. But some are even more fortunate. They have no need to monitor how many vacation days they’ve taken. Because they have an unlimited number!

Ashley Milne-Tyte has the story.

Ashley Milne-Tyte: I’ve always thought Americans had a strange attitude to vacations. They just don’t take them seriously enough. In Europe, a two-week summer break is the norm. Here you may only get two weeks off a year. And surveys show most American don’t even take all their vacation days. So surely unlimited vacation can only be a good thing for one of the hardest working populations on earth? Less time spent hunched over a desk…

Sound of person typing on keyboard

More time for reflection and relaxation…

Sounds of ocean waves

Viviane Valvezan was thrilled when her company, which builds health and fitness websites, made an announcement this year.

Viviane Valvezan: It came out of the blue. On April 1, they decided to let us know that we had an unlimited paid time off.

It wasn’t an April Fool’s joke; she’s actually tested the policy. She went from having two weeks a year, including sick days, to taking several days around July 4 and in August…

Valvezan: I’m gonna take an entire week off — never would have done this — I’m gonna take an entire week off. And then I’m still gonna have my week off in December to see my family.

Valvezan says she’s good at managing her workload and can’t wait to take advantage of the more relaxed regime.

So what’s in it for companies? Denise Fleury is with Mercer Health and Benefits Consulting. She points to a 2009 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management.

Denise Fleury: Two-thirds of HR professionals said that this kind of work time flexibility can increase employee morale, engagement, you know, employee satisfaction, as well as employee retention.

Corinne Sklar is vice president of marketing for Bluewolf, a professional services firm with offices in San Francisco, New York and London.

Corinne Sklar: We really look at it as a part of our overall culture, and at the end of the day, the way we describe it is that we treat people like adults. We trust our employees.

That is, trust them to use the policy wisely. Employees need to manage their time well. Their goals are tracked on a weekly basis.

Sklar: And so it’s black and white. We know whether or not somebody is meeting their objectives.

Kristil Robarts clearly has been.

Kristil Robarts: This is my actual last day in the office. I’m taking the next four and a half weeks off to travel with my family to Europe. We’re really looking forward to it.

How could anyone object to a policy that lets you swan off on a grand tour for a month? But in fact, unlimited vacation isn’t everyone’s idea of bliss.

Yush Lee: I think it’s just a fallacy to think that it’s always a beneficial change for the employees.

That’s Yush Lee, a lawyer in northern California. He used to work for a firm that switched from three weeks a year to unlimited vacation. Management said the move would mean more freedom. But the reality was Lee was so busy he could barely take off two weeks a year, so the new policy didn’t change anything. Some co-workers felt there was another motivation.

Lee: The general consensus was that it was done purely for economics, because as long as there was no vacation policy, people wouldn’t be accruing vacation. So when someone left they wouldn’t have to be paid out their accrued vacation.

Not getting paid for unused vacation can be a source of resentment for some employees. Denise Fleury says that’s just one hitch companies face in switching to unlimited vacation.

Fleury: I think one of the biggest challenges is making sure the policy is implemented consistently.

She says if it’s not, employees in one department can end up getting more vacation days than workers in another, and resentment festers.

That’s not a problem at Netflix. Vice president of Corporate Communications Steve Swasey says employees are expected to work hard, but their reward is unlimited vacation. And they have no qualms about taking it.

Steve Swasey: Nobody at Netflix writes down their hours of vacation, and it’s just not tracked. But we do have an intuitive sense that it’s more than you took at other firms.

Bluewolf doesn’t track vacation either. But Corinne Sklar says people generally stick to around four weeks a year.

Sklar: They’re self-policing in some way, and I don’t want to call it policing but people are mature about it.

In fact, she says, even with plenty of vacation on offer, employees often have to be encouraged to take it.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace Money.

Vigeland: Oh come on, who are those people? And by the way, Jon McTaggart, if you’re listening, I swear I would not take more than six weeks. OK, maybe eight. Alright, alright — not more than 10.

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