Article originally appeared in Women of Influence by Catherine Bell
Catherine Bell is the founder of BluEra, an executive search and team transformation company—that has successfully implemented its own unlimited vacation policy. She’s also the best-selling and award-winning author of The Awakened Company, a thought-provoking read that explores how treating businesses as communities can transform them for the better, and how trusting your employees sets them up for ultimate success. Catherine speaks around the globe and The Awakened Company’s services help your team awaken!
By Catherine Bell
Take a moment to contemplate the idea: unlimited vacation. What words does it conjure up in your mind?
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, it’s certain to garner mixed feelings. On the one hand you’re probably thinking, wouldn’t that be nice? So nice, in fact, it may sound too good to be true. How could a company function if its employees were allowed to take off whenever they pleased? Wouldn’t it be a logistical nightmare?
If your thoughts on unlimited vacation quickly moved from blissful to disastrous, keep reading—I’m about to tell you how, why, and when it can work.
It may sound farfetched, but unlimited vacation is actually a proven concept. It’s a policy that has been offered successfully by large corporations, including General Electric, LinkedIn, and Netflix, as well as small and medium businesses, like the company I co-Founded, BluEra.
We have been offering unlimited vacation to our employees since 2013. Our decision to institute the policy came after we realized there are better ways of working together. We had great people working with us—sixteen passionate, motivated, high-performers—but we recognized that burnout could become a serious problem, and trust is one of our core values. From a broader picture standpoint, we didn’t want our company to have a sweat-shop mentality. We value our employees as stakeholders in our business. In addition, we can easily measure success in our business.
The announcement was made to our team at our annual strategic session. SInce then, we’ve managed the policy using an online spreadsheet. All employees have access, and they are free to block off any days they plan to use for vacation. We don’t ask for advance notice.
I was initially worried people wouldn’t take enough time off. Our experience since then has been the same as what many other companies with the same policy report: nobody abuses the system, they take about as much vacation as we would have “officially” allotted them, and they are respectful of deadlines and busy periods. In fact, it has brought about more accountability and collaboration. Our team members support each other so that everyone is able to take time off.
And the greatest benefit of unlimited vacation? It may not be what you think. Yes, it’s a great perk for attracting and retaining highly skilled workers, but the concept goes much deeper than that. It’s a sign of trust. Empowering our employees to be in charge of their time off shows that we believe in their ability to manage their responsibilities, workload, and results. We also believe in the power of the pause and this gives people the time to regenerate themselves.
Many policies were created with the worst employees in mind, as a means to keep them in check. We want to work with rockstars. Do rockstars want unnecessary boundaries put on them? This approach of giving freedom to employees and expecting the best of employees encourages them to be just that – the best.
Will it work in your organization? I’ll answer that question with a few more: what kind of culture do you have, and what kind of culture do you want? Do you want your employees to be leaders, or followers? Do you want them to feel accountable to their results, or just punching a clock?
With the right team in place, unlimited time off can help your employees focus on the work they are doing and the results they are achieving, and feel empowered by the trust you have shown you have in them. So evaluate the idea based on the message you want to convey, rather than how much vacation you think you can afford to have your employees take. You may find you need to encourage them to take their allotted time off (yes, companies with unlimited vacation policies have reported this phenomenon), and if you have an employee that immediately books a month-long getaway, they probably aren’t a great asset to your business anyhow.
At BluEra, we have found that our unlimited vacation policy has been a positive and important element of our company culture. It is a way we live our values. And a happier rested person is a more productive and engaged person. Of course, this won’t work at all companies, but it’s certainly worth taking into consideration.
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