The secret side of an unlimited vacation policy

It’s an incredible employee benefit if you end up finding it.

by monsterstaff, published 04/23/2014
The secret side of an unlimited vacation policy

This article is written by Corey Eridon, senior blog editor at HubSpot. Corey is responsible for writing and editing content about SEO, social media, analytics, business blogging, marketing automation and email marketing.

I work for HubSpot where, when speaking off-hand, we sometimes call our “Unlimited Vacation Policy” a “No Vacation Policy.”

Internally, it’s just a slip of the tongue. But to some people, it’s been interpreted as some sort of subconscious trip-up that belays a deep, dark truth about HubSpot’s unlimited vacation.

“That must mean no one actually takes any vacation.”

There’s also the flip side, of course — people assuming it’s a bunch of millennials slugging into work after a week-long bender in Cancun. “So basically, you work in between your vacations. Sounds nice.”

These are two extremes that — as extremes often do — fail to represent the reality of working here and the true benefit of having an unlimited vacation policy. (Hint: It’s not that employees can take three weeks off to honeymoon in Hawaii.)

The benefit of this policy is that it alleviates the day-to-day stresses that build resentment in your workplace and make your employees’ lives harder to live; it’s that it helps contribute to employees’ health, happiness, and general wellbeing; it’s that when you get rid of those barriers, employees tend to do exceptionally good work — even if it’s outside of normal working hours.

If you’re trying to tie all that back to your business’ bottom line, I’d draw a dotted line to lower employee retention costs, and higher workplace productivity.

Let’s take a look at the less-examined side effects of an unlimited vacation policy that I’ve experienced, and that I value far more than being able to globe-trot to my heart’s desire.

It’s easier to stay healthy.

If you’ve ever said “I should probably see my doctor but I don’t have enough days left,” that is and should be alarming. (Note: I have, indeed, said this with some previous employers.)

Illness strikes whenever it feels like striking – even during working hours. Having an employer that treats this as a given offers an inherent support structure for employees that emphasizes the importance of health and wellbeing, and removes the guilt associated with having to call out of work once in a while.

There’s a marked decrease in the impact of life’s day-to-day stresses.

It’s remarkable how big an impact a formidable to-do list can have on your stress level. You’re trying to figure out how you’ll get to the bank before it closes, pick up your sister’s birthday present, run to the pharmacy, pick up your son from school, and get groceries for dinner so you don’t have to order in again.

And by the way, you don’t have access to a car, and all of those things take place in totally different parts of the city.

A work environment that allows for the sort of flexibility to take care of the little things that creep up in life when you could use a little leniency can have an immense impact on one’s mental wellbeing.

It’s easier to pursue the personal goals that fulfill you.

A balanced life includes hobbies, but sometimes hobbies can creep into your typical work day. For instance – if you’re training for a marathon, you might need to leave work early in the winter to finish a run before it’s pitch black outside. Or maybe you’re interested in volunteering, but you’ll have to leave work early one day to make it on time.

Recently, I left work a little early because I tried biking to and from the office for the first time, and I was nervous about navigating Boston traffic during rush hour. I saw I had no meetings, my critical work for the day was completed, and my absence for an hour wouldn’t throw a wrench in anyone else’s productivity. I got home unscathed, and continued working there.

You may have stronger inter-personal relationships.

Knowing you won’t be asked to clock in-office time down to the day, half-day, or quarter-day (yes, I’ve had to clock that before as a salaried worker) can have a really positive impact on your relationships.

It can be the difference between whether or not your spouse takes a job that’s more demanding of their schedule (yes, take the job that’ll require you to work odd hours, I’ll be able to adjust my schedule to pick up the slack). It can afford you the time to keep in touch with friends and family you don’t see as much as you’d like (hey, I’ve got a long layover in Boston, any chance you can meet for lunch?).

Yes, it’s really, really nice to know I could take more than the standard X days of accrued vacation this year if I wanted to. It’s an incredible luxury to have that green light. I might make use of it — I might not.

But the real impact of this particular benefit is the liberating effect it has on my life. Because my employer has trusted me and my colleagues to be responsible with the unlimited vacation benefit (the official policy is “use good judgment”), I know when I need to be in the office – to meet a customer, help the team, initiate or wrap up a project, start the month off strong, hit a deadline — and when it’ll be alright if I let life bleed in a bit.

We’re nearing graduation season. If you’re reading this as a soon-to-be college grad, I beg you not to form the opinion that you should be able to come and go as you please at any job you’re offered. The reason a policy like this works is because employees are responsible for the outcome of the job they’ve been given. So don’t look for a job without expectations or a schedule — mine, in fact, has a very strict schedule that requires me to hit multiple deadlines a day, along with very clear performance expectations from my boss. But do look for a company that trusts its employees to make smart decisions with how they spend their time, even if they haven’t accrued a certain number of days of PTO quite yet. It’s an incredible employee benefit if you end up finding it.

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