By: Revanche

Vacation policies: we’re doing it right

February 24, 2014


One of the few perks of my current job was one that sounds good, but that I was pretty skeptical about. Unlimited vacation!

SURE… sounds great but I didn’t really like it because as a certified workaholic, when would I take that time off? It didn’t seem very likely.

A small part of me, the part that’s still insecure about stupid stuff like looking lazy for taking time off, wanted to insist on having 3 weeks totally off guaranteed instead of this weird yawning abyss of “unlimited” stuff. Probably so that I wouldn’t feel guilty for choosing to take time off.Β  And what is that about? Is it the ingrained need to have “budgets” for everything? That sounds irrational but think about it: if you don’t have set accepted norms, then socially speaking, there’s a compulsion to follow the crowd. If the crowd doesn’t take a week off, then you don’t take a week off.

Long term and from an objective perspective, with an unlimited days off policy, you wouldn’t get paid out at the end of your employment period for unused days. While I never relied on that, I always felt like that was a bit of a bonus for me since I could never really take my vacations anyway. At the end of one job, I took home a check for more than 300 unused vacation hours. That was delicious.

Over a year later, I’m now curious whether my skepticism’s panned out, so I decided to do an informal collection of data.

I went through our timeoff log, and took down the number of days that people logged as holidays, days off, or travel days (just semantics). I didn’t take down everyone’s time, just a representative cross section.

1. Days off that span weekends since we all work weekends regularly enough that we often notify each other when we AREN’T going to be available on the weekend. For example, if we were marked off from Monday through Sunday, that’s 6 days.
2. Federal holidays, same reason as above.
3. Days working from a place that’s not home or the office on the assumption that in a traditional office, you’d have to take that time off entirely.

Not counted:
Work from home days because location only matters to some of us and it’s not considered a free day.

An important detail: we all tend to be available during our holiday time anyway. If we’re totally offline, it’s not for more than a couple of days, we just reduce our online hours during “vacation”.

Given that we’re all, voluntarily, only partly off during these holidays, these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. Or a peck. But it is still really impressive to see that we are, in fact, really using our flexibility.

There are few reasons I think this works really well.

1. We’re all responsible adults. No one has to be nagged for anything, though some people will nag because it’s in their nature to do so πŸ˜‰
2. We recognize where our work intersects with or affects other people and we respect each other enough to take care of that work in a timely manner.
3. Most of us either had exceptionally strong, pre-existing working relationships with each other, or are really easygoing and don’t waste time on taking offense, taking things personally, or really, doing anything but getting the job done. This makes for an amazing work environment: no politics, very few arguments, even fewer meetings.
4. We’re still a small enough group that we simply don’t have the luxury of being or having deadweight.

I’m a convert and didn’t even know it ….



Granted, this could be because I made a pact to be open to taking time away. But topping the time off chart was totally unexpected.

I’ll be interested to see whether my numbers change when I can take the time off entirely, with full backup, because then that might start feeling excessive. Doing the math: When you boil it down, I probably work at 20-40% capacity while on vacation, so that works out to being “off” …Β  36.9 days. Honestly? The way I work, I don’t think that’s at all excessive.

So two months “off”? I don’t even feel guilty. When I’m on, I’m ON. Sixteen hours a day on, if necessary, no complaints very little complaint. And when I’m off, well, until I have sufficient back up, I’m doing double duty working and vacationing at the same time. I prioritize and occasionally drop the non-critical stuff but I always, always get the job done.

I’m proud of myself for actually using the flexibility to be more present in our family lives, to do things we’ve never done before .

And you know what? This is the sort of thing that our work culture encourages. Get the job done, and do whatever you want otherwise: don’t be so stereotypically American that we only work hard and never play. In addition to all the above variables, no one really cares about when or how much time someone else is taking off because we make sure to cover the work and each other,Β  and that’s really what matters at the end of the day: getting the job done reasonably well, efficiently, and on time.

For all the other life-things that are difficult, in this, I’m a lucky woman.

As far as our budget goes, I can’t say this is a GOOD thing, our travel budget in 2013 was astronomical! But we won’t be doing that much travel all the time.Β  πŸ™‚

:: This is, bar none, the most generous and flexible policy I’ve ever encountered, in writing and in practice during my working years. Have you had better? How do you prefer your vacation days?

:: Bonus: What’s your dream vacation?

22 Responses to “Vacation policies: we’re doing it right”

  1. eemusings says:

    WOOHOO! I’m proud of you.

    Barring the sabbatical, my direct boss definitely takes more leave than I do (always off on epic outdoorsy trips, and boss’ schedule has more of an ebb and flow with deadlines over the year as opposed to my steady pace).

    Leave has been the same at ally my jobs (what’s legislated). While it’s definitely harder to organise at my current one (small company) where at my last one it was simply a matter of giving enough notice, because there’d always be a way to find coverage, I do have more flexibility here day to day. Working from home right now since I had my wisdom teeth out on the weekend, for example.
    eemusings recently posted…Surviving a layoff: 2009 vs 2014My Profile

  2. Shelley says:

    Well done you, topping that chart. Though an excellent work ethic is of course admirable and necessary to the desirable large income, a life without play and relaxation is unbalanced and unhealthy. I had six weeks paid vacation here in Britain, far more generous that the two I had in the US, though I could save up for longer holidays. My time in the US ended about the time that more flexible arrangement were coming into vogue. My first boss here in the UK was anything but flexible but after him it got better. Still, work was so stressful that between the time it took to unwind and the dread of going back, even a 3 week holiday was barely enough down time to rejuvenate. The idea of unlimited holiday is pretty amazing, though it would only work with staff having the characteristics you describe. For others it would become a part-time occasional job.

    Travel is lovely of course, but time and energy for relationships, hobbies and pursuing other interests is also rewarding – and inexpensive unless you work hard and finding the other kind of hobbies!

    • Revanche says:

      I’ve always had a sneaking envy of the 4-6 week leave that’s offered in the UK, but as you say, it’s still not the cure-all, especially if the work itself remains highly stressful.

      And this year will be less about that so much travel and more about spending quality time with PiC and Doggle, and resting. My preferred hobbies are still too expensive so I’m holding off πŸ™‚

  3. Single Ma says:

    You already know what I think about you taking “two months off” but… *ahem* LOL!

    Have you had better?

    I think it depends on how you define “better.” My time off isn’t as informal and open-ended as yours, but using your methodology for counting days off, the number of days that I could take off in a year is ridiculous. This probably explains why I never take it all. Between my vacation days, sick days, holidays, biweekly days off, flexible work schedule and flexible work location, I think I have the best of both worlds – a predetermined, yet generous number of days off each year; schedule/location flexibility that makes real time off unnecessary, except for long term vacations; ability to take off with no strings attached; and a payout of unused time in the event of separation.

    How do you prefer your vacation days?

    I prefer my current time off policy. Whenever I take time off, I feel that I’ve earned it and can disconnect completely. If my vacation days were unlimited, I’d feel as if the amount of time I take off had to be relatively the same as others. If it were significantly more, I’d feel as if I had to overcompensate with extra work to justify it. Similar to an Amex charge card with no preset limit…nothing is truly unlimited without (actual or implied) conditions attached.

    Bonus: What’s your dream vacation?

    My dream vacation involves taking a 1 year sabbatical and exploring every continent (except Antarctica) at my leisure.
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    • Revanche says:

      Your vacation policy actually sounds very much like what I envisioned the perfect one to sound like. A LOT of time off, structured, and flexible!

  4. Karen says:

    I receive 26 days off, 7 holidays plus 24 hours (as I’m no longer exempt, I can take time in hourly increments).

    My dream vacation: hmm, I pretty much already went on it so…maybe actually traveling with someone, one whom I travel well with? =)

  5. Sense says:

    Time off here in NZ is generous (at least 4 weeks or 20 days/year) compared to the US–one reason I don’t know if I could ever go back! I have 45 sick days saved up somehow. I’m only working 80%, and so technically I get every Friday off, but I work more like 110% FTE instead. (I can’t not work if there is something to be done!) However, I do have the flexibility to visit home for 6 weeks if I want, like I did last Sept. I also went home for Christmas for 3 weeks. Of course, I worked most of that time, but it was really great. Essentially, as long as I get my work done, I get to schedule myself at my leisure. I’m committed enough that it works, but I can see how others would take advantage of the situation.

    Kiwis also basically take most of December and January off–long blocks of vacation time are the norm rather than the exception, which is great for me and my long haul trips back to the US.

    • Revanche says:

      Is four weeks basically standard across your area regardless of level? (ie: entry level to executive) I would have a HARD time coming back from starting at 4 weeks to starting at 2 weeks of vacation like we do here. I do also love the culture of taking long blocks of time off.

  6. GigiwJD says:

    Vacation policies have been very much on my mind lately! I’ve always wondered how unlimited vacation policies play out.

    Now that I’m a 4th year associate, our employee handbook bumps me up from 3 wks/yr to 4 wks/yr (this time includes any day for illness, vacation or even relocation between our offices). Despite this policy, during my year long secondment in Japan, my firm told me I can only take 10 days off (I still accrue 4 wks, but will cross our maximum accrual threshold–they don’t pay out time over the max accrual). Even with this small time off budget, I can’t seem to get a block of days approved. This is because, in the Japanese company I’m working with, they would rather have people call in “sick” one day at a time than have employees take multiple days off in a row. Definitely a different approach than what I was used to in the States. (From an employer point of view, I struggle to see how it is better to have employees taking sick days with no notice instead of taking vacation when you can plan coverage in advance.)

    Having said all that, my preference would be to work at a company that lets you use your vacation days. In the three years before the secondment, I had taken only one vacation.

    Dream vacation –> visiting Christmas markets in Germany, seeing our family’s ancestral hometown (Innsbruck, Austria) and going skiing in the Alps!

    • Revanche says:

      I agree, as a manager, I hated it when people pulled that calling out sick instead of scheduling a vacation thing – it leaves me short unexpectedly when it could be planned for!

      I really don’t understand that policy of refusing to allow you to schedule any block of time off. It seems like a petty and shortsighted thing to do, but I suppose in the Japanese working culture it’s even more normal to expect overworking πŸ™

      Here’s hoping you’re able to actually use some time off soon!

  7. SP says:

    My new job has an official policy of 3 weeks, but the real policy is “take it if you need it, we judge you based on your total “utilization”, not number of days in the office. So, if you are putting in the hours otherwise, and the project timing works out, and you plan ahead, you can take it if you need it.

    lower utilization would impact your bonus, but something always frustrated me was that I was 100% to sacrifice $$ for time, but it isn’t easy in most jobs. So, 15 days (or if you count weekends, maybe 21ish + holidays (12 or so a year I think).

    Dream vacation: trekking in Nepal. But substituting another dream vacation, patagonia trekking, due to seasonal limitations (T’s job, not mine).

    Also, a month in france.

    • Revanche says:

      So it’s like a credit line? Say, 90% is better than 100% of time taken?

      • SP says:

        Sorry, no, my comment was completely poorly written & unclear.

        It’s consulting, so you may not be staffed 100% of the time. There is some target percentage for us to bill a certain amount of hours – but it isn’t 100% of all available hours. Maybe 85%? If you are consistently staffed, taking vacation shouldn’t be a big problem. If you take less vacation and have higher “utilization” (say 95% or 100% or more due to >40 hours), then you get a bigger bonus. If you take a lot of vacation OR are simply not staffed, your utilization and bonus goes down.
        SP recently posted…Women’s Money Week: FeminismMy Profile

  8. I get 3 weeks (15 days) of vacation plus 11 or 12 paid holidays. After 2 years the company gives 4 weeks vacations. After 6 years you get a 2-month sabbatical. I will cry tears of joy if I get to a point where I can take advantage of that sabbatical.

    I have a friend who is working at similar firm in London and he gets FIVE weeks of paid vacation. And that’s in London, not even continental Europe. May just have to figure out a way to move there….
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  9. […] chaos dictated it, which is a bit ironic on the heels of my vacation post I’ll admit, but there IS an end in sight at least. Unlike previous jobs where the end of any […]

  10. […] me your thoughts on vacation policies or being young again (oh lord and lady, no […]

  11. Katie C. says:

    The company I work for now is the first to offer paid vacation time, so I’ve never had better. I get 15 days vacation. Employees begin with 2 weeks after one year of employment, and then you get an additional 5 days every 5 years. We get 10 paid holidays off (including a floating holiday that most employees use for their birthdays), and five personal days. But vacation time does not accrue from year to year. We have a use it or lose it policy, and we don’t pay for unused vacation in the event of employment termination. I’m always jealous of people who can cash out vacation when they leave an employer!

    To be honest, I really preferred the ability to completely disconnect while on vacation. Now that I work from home I’ve gotten into this mentality of every day, any hour, being appropriate for work, and that’s bled over into my vacation time as well. I’ve only taken 3 days of vacation since becoming a work-from-home employee, and during those 3 days, I couldn’t help checking my email and doing the work I found there. I found it much easier to disconnect completely from work for vacation when I worked in the office on a set schedule. (My supervisor discourages working while on vacation and actually wagged her finger at me for answering her emails, but it’s like a compulsion now!)

    Dream vacation… Hmmm! I’ve always wanted to travel to Europe, specifically to Germany, Italy, France, Greece, Ireland, the UK (and on and on and on!), but the idea of only spending one week on an entire country?! So I’ll need to use WellHeeled’s 2-month sabbatical to really feel like I’m taking advantage of the trip.

  12. […] their employees take under this policy as long as it works out to less than before. Which is why I made it a point to take mine. Even if it isn’t total disconnection, it’s still worth trying to take […]

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