Unlimited time-off: Is it effective?

Unlimited time-off is a trending choice right now, and modern enterprises seem to be pioneering the movement. But is this a truly effective approach to time-off management?

Unlimited time-off

Recently, we explored the different aspects to examine when creating a time-off policy for your business. There’s a lot to factor in: legalities, business process implications and what sector you operate in are all vital discussion points.

When it comes to unlimited time-off, theres a lot to take on board. How will this approach affect your business output? How will it affect your employees? Here are some useful considerations to ponder before making the move.

Defining expectations

Defining expectations

The effectiveness of unlimited time-off can come down to a few things. Company culture and clear expectations for example, are vital considerations. Richard Branson opted for this approach at Virgin and when he first implemented the policy, Branson wrote a blog post outlining what he expected from his employees:

‘It is left to the employee alone to decide if and when he or she feels like taking a few hours, a day, a week or a month off, the assumption being that they are only going to do it when they feel a hundred percent comfortable that they and their team are up to date on every project and that their absence will not in any way damage the business – or, for that matter, their careers!’

Branson’s expectations clearly define the policy’s use and let employees know the boundaries of having access to unlimited time-off. But this can put a lot of pressure on the employee. Are projects ever a hundred percent up to date? And does anyone ever feel a fully comfortable with taking time-off, especially when there’s no obligation to do so? As Jennifer Owens, editorial director of Working Mother magazine, explains:

‘Just try taking a month of paid vacation and see how that flies.’

free time-off request form

Terms and conditions apply

Terms and conditions

Unlimited time-off is, at its core, exactly what it says. But there’s a moral inference to factor in. Because the policy doesn’t set expectations, workers often feel guilty about taking time off, and employees overwork as a result.

Crowdfunding start-up Kickstarter recently learned this lesson, and it led to the company axing the policy and opting for something with clearer definitions:

‘What we found was that by setting specific parameters around the number of days, there was no question about how much time was appropriate to take from work to engage in personal, creative, and family activities.’

The clear benefit of setting time-off guidelines is that ‘the concept of what’s acceptable is established,’ explains Jennifer. Without these definitions in place, workers will inevitably take less time-off ‘as they choose to err on the conservative side.’

A flexible solution

Implementing a policy that clearly defines expectations but is open to compromise ticks all the boxes. The carry-over approach to time-off is a perfect example, which visibly sets definitions but allows for employees to take more time-off should their allowance cater for it.

We use this approach here at Turbine and at Articulate, our sister company, and it’s an effective way for the business to compromise with its employees. Subject to discussion, we can overdraw our holiday allowance too, should we wish to take more time-off.

Sure, this isn’t feasible for everyone. But by adopting a flexible attitude you can maintain a sense of trust without worrying about overworked employees. After all, as the author Jane Wells once said:

‘Learn the wisdom of compromise, for it is better to bend than to break.’

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