The “Minimum Vacation” Policy

A pragmatic alternative to “unlimited vacation”

Richard Branson’s recent announcement to offer unlimited vacation days to Virgin employees sent a veritable shockwave through the corporate landscape of news reporting. ‘Unlimited vacation’, so it seems, is the new ‘four-day workweek’, which also had its day in the spotlight a few years ago.

For many of us employed by or running companies not steeped in traditional corporate dogma, however, Branson’s pronouncement was hardly anything new.

When I hired my first full-time employee two years ago, we immediately began an unlimited vacation policy. In addition to the 12 days per year that we observe for national holidays, each of us was free to take off as much time as desired, so long as the work that needed to get done got done.

Since then, I’ve always felt a little unsettled about our policy. Personally I’ve found that I’m more apprehensive about taking vacation under the guise of a policy that allows for up to 365 days of annual vacation, and I’m still trying to understand why this is. I believe it has to do with fairness, i.e. a nagging concern about taking off more time than others.

What I’ve turned my attention to recently is a “minimum vacation policy” for lack of a better phrase. In lieu of unlimited vacation, and in contrast to traditional vacation policies which focus on maximum days off, I’m intrigued by idea of requiring employees to expend a minimum number of vacation days each year to ensure their working (and personal) health remains strong.¹ Beyond the minimum requirement, additional time may be taken off as needed.

The reason I think this policy may — and it can only be proven after we try it for a year or two —be more effective is it prevents employees (and co-workers for that matter) from worrying about how much time they’re taking off. Employees will know the company expects them to take off at least a certain number of days, and beyond that, time as needed.

Whoosh. Let’s see how it goes. I’ll report back sometime next year.

Photo by Jay Mantri.

¹ Our policy now states 15 days of minimum vacation in addition to the 12 days for national holidays, bringing the total to 27 minimum days per year.