Is Offering Unlimited Vacation Just a Job Marketing Ploy?

Examining the “Unlimited” Time Off Policy

Chris Wallace
Oct 29, 2013 · 3 min read

At Lift, we just recently announced an unlimited vacation and sick day policy. To most people, the immediate reaction is, “I wish my company offered unlimited vacation.” To others, their intense jealousy offers another opinion, “you could never take ‘unlimited’ vacation days. You’d get fired.” So when I announced this policy in a tweet earlier today, it was met with some criticism by a couple good friends of mine, @rogie and @richhemsley:

I want to take time to explain what unlimited means to us and why we feel it is the best explanation of our time off policy. It is obvious that there will be questions about how this policy works and whether “unlimited” is just a hiring gimmick to manipulate poor, overworked employees looking for their dream job or if it really is the right description for the type of work environment we promote.

What Does ‘Unlimited’ Really Mean?

In order to understand the context of this term, it is important to understand not only the most common definition of the word ‘unlimited’ but also examine the other ways this word is used in the English language. Merriam-Webster defines ‘unlimited’ as:

  1. without any limits or restrictions : unrestricted <unlimited access>
  2. boundless, infinite <unlimited possibilities>
  3. not bounded by exceptions : undefined <the unlimited and unconditional surrender of the enemy — Sir Winston Churchill>

As we read through each definition, it becomes fairly clear that the vacation policy is not truly boundless. The one limitation we will always have is time. Because time is limited to the number of hours or days in one’s life, there must be a limit to the number of possible vacation days or hours. It is a simple math problem. You cannot take an infinite number of days off because you will someday be dead and no longer have a job.

However, within the interpretation of number three, we find that there is a definition that finally embodies the spirit of the policy we’ve set out to create. Unlimited can mean “not bounded by exceptions, undefined.” This is the scenario we envisioned. By not defining the number of days or hours employees are allowed to be away from their work, we are giving them the freedom to make that decision on their own, understanding that there are reasonable expectations placed upon them to fulfill their responsibilities.

The Spirit of the Policy

I think the main thing to remember is results are more important than the number of hours worked and having the ability to choose when and where you work is more important than filling a desk between the hours of 8 AM to 5 PM. Productivity looks contextually different for everyone. Some people are productive early in the morning while others crank stuff out late at night. Yet, others are more productive while sipping on a Mai Thai on a beach in Tijuana. Everyone’s different.

The spirit behind the policy is that we’re not keeping track of the days employees need or want to take throughout the year. In the years we’ve spent working for Corporate America, we learned that meetings are distractions, managers are interruptions, and vacations are regenerative. A vacation can last a single day or three full weeks but almost always offers a fresh perspective and the ability to solve old problems with a modified approach.

Whether you believe the term “unlimited” is correct or not, the reason we offer it is simple. We hire people who love what they do, where they live, and how they work. We then place expectations on them that they are fully capable of fulfilling and allow them to accomplish their goals the way they prefer and be autonomous in their roles. There is no limit to the number of days or hours you can take, other than still providing value and completing work on time. We call it unlimited vacation and sick time. You can call it whatever you wish.

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Chris Wallace

Written by

VP, Experience Design @ 10up, Inc.

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