Unlimited Holidays: Should they be the Norm?

Are people at work actually working? The labour market has everyone perplexed; despite extremely high levels of employment, growth itself is pretty stagnant. This is indicative of a clear productivity problem often referred to as ‘presenteeism’; the phenomenon where many workers are physically present in the office but are not working to their full potential.

We’ve recently seen the rise of flexible working in many companies, and in certain sectors this has become the norm.

One thing that hasn’t really changed however is yearly holiday entitlement for employees. Staff are still forced to take days off from an arbitrary quota given to them annually. Back in 2014 research from the insurance group Canada Life found 23% of UK employees didn’t take all their paid annual leave in the year preceding the report. This is problematic from not only the productivity, but also the employee health perspective and points to a need for change.

A growing trend in the US tech industry in particular is to offer unlimited holiday, allowing employees to take days off as and when required. This may sound ridiculous, but it has proved very successful at companies like Netflix and more recently LinkedIn who have been operating the system with reported success.

Not everyone is a fan however. The crowdfunding startup Kickstarter dispensed with the policy[1] after it resulted in staff taking fewer holidays and in effect reduced their work/life balance and presumably productivity also, leaving us back at square one with employees not taking holiday when they really need it.

The question companies need to ask themselves is — how do they view their staff? Do they see them as assets with a potential source of creativity & value? Or more of the view that personnel are a necessary cost centre for the business and need the ‘shackles’ of fixed hours and holidays so they can be supervised? The answer is likely to vary depending on the industry but in creative industries especially it would seem a no brainer to allow staff to have total control over their holidays, allowing them to view work as less of a burden or chore and resulting in them becoming more emotionally invested within the company they work for. If staff feel tired and need a break they can take it, instead of feeling to pressure to just ‘turn up’. It could however be abused and result in productivity falling, and it is this innate fear that is preventing many companies from adopting the revolutionary system of holiday entitlement.

Whether or not this is something that gets embraced by the mainstream remains to be seen. What is clear though is in order to improve workers’ productivity and morale something needs to change across the board, and looking at many startups, scrapping the outdated system of fixed holidays and embracing unlimited holiday is the way to go.

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[1] https://www.fastcompany.com/3052926/lessons-learned/we-offered-unlimited-vacation-for-one-year-heres-what-we-learned