Unlimited Vacation Doesn’t Create Slackers–It Ensures Productivity
By tossing the two-week standard in favor of an honor system with unlimited time off, some companies are seeing an exponential rise in productivity. Now, they just have to be mindful of staff burnout.
Sharon Rosenblatt confesses she suffers from self-diagnosed workplace paranoia – and even her company’s unrestricted vacation policy sometimes (negatively) affects her psyche.
A contractor who serves as communications and accessibility support at Accessibility Partners, Rosenblatt operates under the edict, “as long as you get your work done, it doesn’t matter where you do it.” Sounds nice – but what it can mean is checking email multiple times per day on weekends and on vacation. “I once wrote part of a federal proposal response while I was stuck in traffic on the George Washington Bridge because my client extended our services into my vacation time.”
Though Rosenblatt asserts her guilt trips are self-generated, a recent study of more than 5,600 workers conducted by CareerBuilder found that 12% of participants say they feel guilty that they’re not at work while they’re on vacation.
Of the majority of workers planning some time away from work, three in 10 aim to take the office with them on vacation. Thirty percent reported they will contact work on their time off, up from 25% in 2010, according to CareerBuilder.
Is it any wonder then, that plenty of businesses like Accessibility Partners, IBM, and Netflix have sent their vacation policies packing? The concept unlimited time off hasn’t reduced workplaces to chaotic anarchies. Instead, it’s created more efficiency, at least according to Dharmesh Shah, cofounder and CTO of Hubspot.
Shah says Hubspot doesn’t track anyone’s time off, so it’s hard to know if the policy makes people more or less wary of taking vacation. “One thing we are pretty sure about is that it’s a less stressful way to manage it,” he says. Rather than hoard days for times when they really need it, then scramble to take days at the end of the year (or fight for extra pay for time not taken), Shah says Hubspot’s open, unlimited vacation policy makes all of these problems go away. “Employees take the vacation when they need it and we don’t have a spike of vacations at specific points of time,” he explains.
Rosenblatt points out that Accessibility Partners employs many people with disabilities. “I feel that it only increases productivity because it allows people to work when they’re able, and not in a conventional 9-5, five days a week schedule.”
Hubspot’s had this plan (or lack thereof) in place for two years, thanks to CEO Brian Halligan’s desire to disrupt the dinosaur corporate culture depicted in Bravo TV’s Mad Men. Laura “@Pistachio” Fitton says that since HubSpot implemented the policy, the company has been ranked as the #2 fastest-growing software company on the Inc. 500.
GoHealthInsurance.com also implemented an unlimited vacation policy, in keeping with the company’s free-spirited culture, which includes a (hopefully tongue in cheek) “no pants and purple hats” dress code, i.e.: no policy at all. With a business model similar to Priceline, the company recorded a 200% increase in growth this year.
Michael Mahoney, vice president of Consumer Marketing and seven-year veteran of GoHealthInsurance.com, says it actually was a deciding factor when he took the job. “I think it really helps instill in new employees the same values we had during the first years at our company,” he says. Mahoney contends employees schedule vacation more strategically based on their workload. “When you consider when you can best take vacation as opposed to when you must, you end up able to take time off without affecting performance.”
Which often means people are actually on the clock more than ever. Shah admits that he works from home “a lot,” often putting in odd hours: “Until about 2 a.m. every night, and just about every weekend.” Fitton, founder of the Twitter app store Oneforty, which was acquired by Hubspot, was actually using a day off for emergency childcare during this interview–hardly a day at the beach.
Likewise, Mahoney says, “I’m working harder than ever, but I probably will take a few more days off this year,” though some of his colleagues have taken weeks off to go overseas. While Rosenblatt has taken “off” over a month, she says, “I always feel pressure to work even harder when I get back, even if there isn’t more work.”
Worker bees may be buzzing happily, but eventually everyone needs a real break. That’s why the 17-year-old Motley Fool, a multimedia financial-services company, established “The Fool’s Errand” five years ago. Spokesperson Alison Southwick says it’s a monthly ritual where, at a meeting of all 250 employees, one name is drawn from a hat. That person must take off two consecutive weeks sometime in the ensuing month. Southwick says it’s purpose is twofold. “First, it helps make sure that people ARE taking time off, clearing their heads, and recharging their batteries. Second, it helps us fight against single points of failure within the company. When you suddenly take two weeks off, you need to make sure that other people around you understand what you do so that the company doesn’t come to a screeching halt if you’re gone,” she explains.
But, mostly, it is fun. “Imagine being told you must take two weeks off right away. It’s two weeks to do whatever you want: tackle a life-long dream, learn something new, or just relax at home,” Southwick says.
The Motley Fool’s Head “People Fool” Lee Burbage asserts, “The idea of vacation days is a flawed concept from the start. Fools have the freedom to plan their lives how it works best. We trust them to understand the demands of their role and plan accordingly. If you have a big deadline or target date for a project, then you probably know that would be a good day to be at the office.”
Mahoney agrees. Unlimited vacation fosters productivity and loyalty because it favors results over input. “We don’t judge employees based on the number of lines of code they write, but instead on the impact their innovative ideas have on our users,” he says. “If we trust employees to make the right decisions with the time they spend at work in pursuit of our aggressive goals, we can trust them to make responsible decisions about when they choose to take time off of work.”
Mahoney maintains he “absolutely loves” what he does, so you’ll always find him working. “I think that holds true for most of our employees. As a fast-growing technology company, we do work extremely hard in pursuit of very aggressive goals and timelines. That said, when employees want to take time off, we want to help them do that in any way possible.”