Why an unlimited vacation policy doesn’t work, and how progressive companies are implementing this alternative that give employees real, quality time off.
First, we were on a hamster wheel of busyness. Then, the pandemic rocked and ruined our lives. And now, we’re languishing and recovering as a tidal wave of turnover hits us.
We all need a vacation.
But, after a year of working from home, our personal and work lives blended into a guilt ridden continuous circle. Thus, there’s still a danger in taking a vacation the normal, old way — you know, the type where you pretend not to work in front of the people you love. The type of vacation where you simply take some of your stress to another location, and leave the rest of it lingering around, counting the days until you return.
OK, rephrasing: we all need quality time off.
And that is why your unlimited vacation policy is dead.
An unlimited vacation policy doesn’t work (on its own)
When the majority of people are working and you are not, there’s a FOMO element, but also a feeling of not wanting to stop work from happening in our absence. And, not only were Americans not taking their vacation days pre-pandemic (more than half of Americans don’t take all the vacation time they earn), but an unlimited policy with no guardrails leaves employees scratching their heads on how much vacation they can really take. And if leaders aren’t modeling good vacation taking behavior (quality and quantity), the message is even more confusing.
In short, your unlimited vacation policy doesn’t work doesn’t work on its own for giving people a chance to recharge and increase mental wellness.
What’s really recharging team members is closing the office (yes, you heard it here first).
Close the office! For a week, or two, or for a day every week!
Leading the way
We know trends become a widespread reality when progressive companies go first. Let these companies inspire you to make this a thing every year.
LinkedIn closes their offices for a week in December, but they also decided to close their office this spring for a week.
When CNN Business interviewed LinkedIn’s Chief People Officer Teuila Hansen, she said:
“LinkedIn surveys employees quite often. We have a quarterly survey cadence and then we added additional surveys last year, just to make sure that we were really keeping a pulse on how employees were doing. [We] added a simple open-ended question of just: How are you? That is when we started to see the emerging of themes in and around burnout, lack of self care, struggle with family, people feeling lonely or isolated, so that was really good to just be able to read through the verbatim comments and to really get some of that texture around how people are feeling, how they are doing, what they are missing, what they may be grieving.”Teuila Hansen, Chief People Officer, LinkedIn
Closing the office for a week is one of several things the executive team decided to do in response to employee feedback.
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Bumble closed their office one week this summer to prevent burnout, to the appreciation of their workforce.
In a since-deleted tweet, Bumble’s head of editorial content wrote:
“@WhitWolfeHerd gave all 700ish of us a paid week off, having correctly intuited our collective burnout. In the U.S. especially, where vacation days are notoriously scarce, it feels like a big deal.”
This worked so well for Bumble that they decided to make the break permanent, and added another week off so the company-wide break could happen twice a year. They decided to offer unlimited PTO, and then! they doubled down on employee empathy with a slew of additional PTO benefits for specific life circumstances. This includes a minimum of 20 days paid leave for victims of domestic violence or other violent crimes, and a minimum of 15 days compassionate leave for those grieving, whether that be a death in the family or a miscarriage.
Yes, do it because it’s right for your employees and the world at large. But, don’t forget to market these programs to candidates, too. Check out this quick video from SmartRecruiters + the hiring call to action.
We started with Summer Fridays. Then we shut down the office the last two weeks of the year. Now we’ve been four day work weekin’ it on the regular for almost a year.
Verdict: Productivity doesn’t suffer. Strong retention. Better creative work. Happier people.
Companies, you can do it. Let’s make this a thing.
An unlimited vacation policy doesn’t work. Consider closing the office, instead of offering more vacation. It does a better job of achieving your ultimate goal: truly recharged and happier team members, who are more engaged at work as a result. This leads to a world of more healthy, productive and creative organizations.
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