Unlimited Vacation Time: Is it All It’s Cracked Up to Be?

One trend seen across the country in Human Resources and recruiting is the offering of unlimited vacation time. Promising a work-life balance that few other companies can, recruiters and employers alike promote their unlimited vacation time as the best thing since sliced bread. And really, who wouldn’t want unlimited time off, right? But is it really as great as it sounds? What company is going to pay an employee to take vacation time anytime they want or feel the need to?

Unlimited vacation time is surely gaining the attention of many; critics and supporters alike. “The 2017 State of the American Workplace Report from Gallup showed that 53 percent of employees say it’s “very important” to have a job that allows them greater work-life balance and personal well-being. Unlimited vacation time could help achieve both of these, by offering what is still a somewhat unique opportunity in the business landscape,” shares John Boitnott, writer for Inc.com.

We decided to do a deeper dive into this newest trend and see if it’s really as great as it sounds. Here’s what we found.

Unlimited doesn’t always mean unlimited

Sure your employers may not track your days off, but you can’t just take off on a whim. Most of these policies (and even the ones that don’t have this in their policies) are not going to permit you to take days off if it’s impacting the work that you need to get done. You still have to meet deadlines, and you still have to make sure that your days off don’t mean more work for your coworkers.

Stacy Lastoe with TheMuse.com says, “While your boss may not be keeping tabs on how many days you took off last month or year, that doesn’t mean you’re at liberty to take off as much time as you want. After all, you have a job to do. You’re getting paid to do said job—not go on vacation.”

Some people feel that even though the policy may be for unlimited time that they will still somehow be penalized for taking time off. If you work in a high-stress environment or one with many deadlines, you may never feel that it’s an okay time to take off, even if the policy permits it. Co-workers may frown on using too many of the days off you’re allotted, and it could essentially end up costing you opportunities to be promoted, in this type of environment.

Look for flexibility

There are companies that have mastered this unlimited vacation policy and are doing it well. Most of these companies understand the importance of flexibility for their employees. And the type of employees that they look for are those that don’t necessarily want to spend three months a year lounging on a beach but instead want to be able to work when it’s best for them. In some cases, these employees have family obligations that may require time off occasionally. In other cases, you may have someone in a project driven job that works best later in the day than they do in the mornings and doesn’t want those unlimited vacation days as much as they want to be able to come in when they’re most productive.

Is it achieving the benefit that everyone hoped?

There are also some companies that have reversed their decision to offer unlimited vacation time. However, the reason may surprise you. Instead of employees abusing the benefit, more and more companies are finding that employees are actually taking less vacation time than they did when they had limited vacation days.

Todd Wasserman with ADP.com shares, “One of the bizarre things about unlimited vacation policy is that it seems to have the opposite effect of what’s intended. For instance, when British photography equipment company Triggertrap began offering unlimited paid time-off (UPTO) in 2015, the average employee took less vacation than before the change, according to Slate.”

Unlimited vacation time can be a great benefit when managed properly and when there are clear guidelines on how it should be used, but it’s not always as clear cut as it seems. Be sure to clarify with your recruiter or human resources manager what those guidelines are and even find out how many people utilize the unlimited days and if they’ve seen an increase or decrease in time off since offering the benefit. You can also check their employee turnover, which is sign if policies and procedures are working.