How Does Unlimited Vacation Sound? Some Companies Are Trying It Out

By Steve Twedt
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Unlimited vacation time sounds like a pretty good job perk.

Social media site LinkedIn this year joined the still-small-but-growing roster of companies offering employees as much time off as they’d like, with the understanding that the coupon is good only if they get their work done.

Estimates about how many companies offer open-ended vacations run in the 2 to 4 percent range, mostly small startups but including none other than General Electric, which earlier this year began offering unlimited vacation time to many of its executives.

What’s in it for the companies?

Besides being a strong recruitment and retention tool, such policies can free companies from any unused vacation pay liability if they currently allow vacation days to accrue. Proponents say the policies also bestow a sense of “ownership” among employees that cultivates a more committed workforce.

“This flexible scheduling has really come into play in the last six months to a year,” said Ginger Kochmer, the Philadelphia-based vice president of The Creative Group, a division of Robert Half International.

In a survey of 400 advertising and marketing executives and 400 office workers commissioned by The Creative Group earlier this year, 39 percent of executives said they believed productivity would increase if employees had unlimited time off. And 72 percent of managers and 56 percent of workers said they would probably take the same amount of time off.

That second finding is further backed up by a study commissioned by Project: Time Off, a Washington, D.C.-based group affiliated with the U.S. Travel Association. It found 41 percent of Americans did not plan to use all of their paid vacation days in 2014, leading the group to conclude “the benefits of vacation were no match for the fears that are keeping them at work.”

Those fears, in descending order, included the prospect of facing piles of work when they return, a belief that no one else can do their job (a smaller percentage worried they would be replaced) and lingering effects of a struggling national economy.
Some workers said they could not afford to take the time off, and others thought foregoing vacation would demonstrate dedication to their employer.

Open-ended vacation policies don’t work for every business. A year ago, the Chicago-based Tribune Co. offered unlimited time off for some salaried staff, then rescinded the policy one week later without explanation other than the change “had created confusion and concern.”

There are jobs that don’t easily lend themselves to an unlimited vacation policy, acknowledged Kochmer. In sales, for example, “The more hours you put in, obviously, the more success you’re going to have.
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And those who’ve adopted such a policy need to monitor and manage it, perhaps by scheduling quarterly performance reviews, to make sure the employee’s productivity doesn’t tail off.

But she said the idea of unlimited vacations is probably here to stay.

“Because the business environment is changing more drastically, you need to be flexible,” said Kochmer. “It really is becoming more common.”

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