Offering unlimited vacation days to your employees


When I read Atlassian offered their employees unlimited vacations days since January, it thought it made perfect sense in their case!

A traditional manager would think this is the worse idea ever.  Nobody would show up to work anymore.  Why would they?  People get paid anyway!

That’s not necessarily true, I believe it depends on your company culture and organizational structure.

If your employees are performing routine tasks, on their own, with limited creative input, chances are high they won’t turn up anymore.  Work is dull anyway, never-ending, with nobody depending on their progress but their manager.

On the other hand, if you’re working in a team that needs to work together to solve creative problems, meet specific goals, chances are high they won’t take more vacation days.

The difference is purpose. 

When you feel you‘re contributing to a goal, with people depending on you, work is challenging.  The peer pressure alone makes you weigh your vacation decisions very consciously.  “Is this the right time to take a week off, when we’re finishing this new release?”

In a team with clear goals, people who would abuse the liberty of taking as much vacation days as wanted will have to answer to the whole group and risk of being perceived as a non-team player and eventually be excluded from the team.

I’m free to take vacation days whenever I like, since I have my own business.  But if I look at the previous 2 years, I took 20% less vacation days!  That may be related to the fear of starting up a business.  However, I also noticed that I took my vacation days more flexibly.  Fewer long periods of holiday, more individual days and half days.

I would be interested to see if companies such as Atlassian see the same change in people taking time off.

The concept of being able to take more vacation days in time of need is interesting.  Everybody has certain periods in a lifetime where he could benefit from more time off, while in other periods he just wants to go full steam ahead and work.  Perhaps it can offer a solution to burn-outs and highly valued people leaving the company because they need a break.

This concept is long from going mainstream.  In Belgium, companies are only slowly starting to experiment with their employees working from home.  Sometimes it’s hard to let go the illusion of control.  But as long as these innovative companies keep exploring the boundaries, we will all keep evolving slowly.

photo credit: szeke cc

About Nick Oostvogels

Hi, I'm an independent management consultant. My biggest strengths are located in the fields of teamwork, motivation, leadership and continuous improvement. In the IT industry you find a lot of these values in the agile movement, in which I often act as a project leader, product owner or coach. My interests go a lot further, into other industries where we find these values in lean production. Besides that, I try to broaden my horizon as much as possible, always looking for better ways of doing business.

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