How our unlimited holiday allowance backfired

Or: What do you do when your incentives don’t support your goals?


If you were to make a change, from ‘tracking holiday as normal’ to ‘not tracking holiday’ — what would you worry about as a CEO? The most logical thing for me was ‘what if people take huge amounts of time off?’ ‘What if productivity goes out the window?’ ‘What if it comes across as unfair’?

But, about a year ago, we decided that the act of actually tracking holidays was more hassle than it was worth — and so we decided to try something new.

For context, if you’ve never heard of Triggertrap, you might need a quick, 90-second video introduction. I just happen to have one here:

What actually happened?

I like to think that we run a pretty cool shop over at Triggertrap. A couple of weeks ago, we had our TTCON, for example, where we got the whole team together, and we talked about a lot of aspects about what we are, what we do, and how we do it. One of the things that came up was holidays, and the ‘take as much holiday you want’ policy we were running in 2014.

Ahead of the convention, we looked at the numbers, and it turned out we had a problem… In the UK, we have statutory 28 days holiday entitlement. Of course, in not tracking holidays, we fulfil that legal requirement…. But the problem wasn’t that people were taking too much holiday. Quite the opposite, in fact:

Holiday days taken

Nobody took all the days they have a legal right to

The thing is, in the UK, you tend to be told how many ‘days of holiday’ you have left on your pay slip, which means that you get a monthly reminder of how many days you’ve taken, and how many you have left. This tends to lead to people actually taking their days off — because if you don’t take them by the end of the year, you lose them.

The other problem we had was this: Because we weren’t explicitly tracking, people felt guilty about taking time off. It also turns out that there was a difference in the patterns for how people took time off: Some were taking a week here and a week there, but others were just taking the odd day. The problem with the latter is that it seemed like they were always away. That’s OK, of course, but if other members of the team feel as if someone’s taking the piss, that’s bad for morale all around.

And the very most importantly, by the time the end of December rolled around, I had a team that was run ragged. Yes, we had a long year with lots of accomplishments and lots of crazy new things that happened — but if everyone is exhausted, we’ll never accomplish the things we’re trying to do. So, we went back to the drawing board.

Holidays in 2015

Staring at sunsets. Because why the hell not.

We decided to make some changes. As a team, we came up with a new holiday policy:

  1. We do track holidays, publicly, so you can see how many days you, and your colleagues, have taken.
  2. In your team, keep an eye on your co-workers: It’s okay to pack someone off on holiday, or to remind them that they haven’t taken as much time off as they should.
  3. You can take as much holiday as you like, as long as it’s OK with the rest of the team. That means that for high season (Christmas, especially — doubly so because the Christmas season is the busiest in a business such as ours), the relevant teams need to negotiate and find a solution together.
  4. Bonuses! If you take more than 14 days in the first six months of the year, you get a cash bonus so you can go off and take a nice break. If you take more than 14 days off in the last six months of the year, you get a cash bonus to go on holiday with.

So, is this the perfect solution? Who knows, but as a team, we’re continuing to experiment to find the best way of doing holidays: We do want our staff to take time off and get time to relax and recharge, we want to be a cool place to work, and we want to continue creating awesome photography kit.

And, pretty importantly, we want to continue involving our team in making decisions about how, when, and where we work. And when we do not.


An update!

6 months into our experiment, Triggertrap’s Managing Director Mat wrote an update for how we got on.