Does the concept of "Unlimited Vacation" increase productivity and attract talented employees?


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Does the concept of "Unlimited Vacation" increase productivity and attract talented employees ?

I've read about it here, specifically:

Unlimited vacation fosters productivity and loyalty because it favors results over input. “We don’t judge employees based on the number of lines of code they write, but instead on the impact their innovative ideas have on our users,” he says. “If we trust employees to make the right decisions with the time they spend at work in pursuit of our aggressive goals, we can trust them to make responsible decisions about when they choose to take time off of work.”
Is that article a good summation of the process, or is it more hype-than-fact?

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asked Aug 1 '12 at 23:57
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User1510230
56 points
Top digital marketing agency for SEO, content marketing, and PR: Demand Roll
  • This definitely works for creative people, so if you are profiled this way, e.g. you hire designers or smart engineers this is OK. If you have company with career people, this will offend them. – Andrew Smith 7 years ago

2 Answers


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I work at The Motley Fool, so I can share what I've seen with you.

The concept of 'unlimited vacation' by itself does not attract Talented employees. Talented employees are attracted to other talented employees. So how do you attract talent? Here at The Motley Fool, we do the following:

  1. Have a 'food fridge', where food is brought in twice weekly. This food is free, and it is mostly healthy food (It's from Whole Foods). We have yogurts, fruit, sandwiches, and other scrumptious foods.
  2. We have a rather tough interviewing process for software developers. There's a phone screen, online quiz, and an all day in-person interview. This attracts people who realize we're serious about hiring good software developers.
  3. We have a Game room, with Shuffleboard, ping pong, Xbox 360 (three of them on large 48" TVs), Wii, Kinect, Rockband, and arcade games. We also have a pool table and foozball tables.
  4. We have Pizza day and Cake day (one day a month we order pizza in, and another day we order cakes from a local bakery).
  5. We have lots of office events, like taking trips to amusement parks, renting out theaters to see new movies (Just saw Prometheus and The Dark Knight Rises courtesy of the Fool), camping trips, going to ball games, etc.
  6. We have good speakers that drop in. Les Mckeown (author of Predictable Success) just dropped by, as did David Allen (The GTD guy).
  7. We don't have a vacation policy. If you need a day, take a day. Work/life balance is really important here.
  8. We have a good development environment: Automated builds, automated deploys, automated testing, and we work hard to make sure Developers have the newest tools.
  9. If you need to buy a book for work or professional development, it's expensable (I don't care what spellcheck says, that's a word).
  10. We have Foolish clubs, like the Foolish Golfers, our own Softball team, and others.
  11. We utilize "Agile" to make sure our development process is as responsive as possible. We try to keep our process free from cruft and crap.
  12. We have a Really Good insurance plan. Like. Really Good.
  13. We have a wellness Fool, whose sole job is to make sure all Fools are healthy. He offers boot camps, exercise classes, twice a week gym games, etc.
  14. We have cool stuff to work on and we use the right tool for the job. There's no, "Well, we've always been a .NET shop so you have to use .NET here." Use what makes sense.

The list goes on.

These are all things that attract talent. As far as increasing productivity, here's what I've personally experienced with our vacation policy (or lack thereof):

  • I tend to work more, not less. I feel an inward pressure to perform because I know that everyone around me is here because they want to be here. If they didn't want to be, they wouldn't be. That means that everyone here is a high performer. In a recent CNBC interview, our Chief Rabble Rouser said that we only have around 1% turnover. That's really good, and it means that when someone comes to the Fool, they stay at the Fool (and it also means that the talent we hire is good, so there's not a lot of 'letting go' that happens).
  • I don't have to worry about what to do if my daughter is sick and my wife has to work. I simply go home and care for her. No one looks at me strangely. If she's sick, they'd much rather I stay home (for multiple reasons, not the least of which being that they don't want me to bring whatever she has into work).
  • I can take a vacation when I need to, and not worry about 'use or lose'. Most Fools take three weeks a year in vacation. Some take more, some take less.
  • I know that no one is micromanaging my time. I work to task, not to time. If something needs to be done, I do it. I'm not just waiting for the clock to hit '5' so I can punch out. If anything, I work more because I know that if I need the time, I can take it.

I can't speak directly to the Human Resources aspect (and I'm certainly not speaking for The Motley Fool), but I imagine that a vacation policy like the Fool's would have the following advantages:

  • No Human Resources people have to worry about time tracking.
  • No need to calculate how much time to buy when an employee leaves.
  • No need to deal with a myriad of excuses when someone is out of work.

NB : I don't speak for The Motley Fool. What I'm saying is my own experience and my own opinions.

answered Aug 2 '12 at 03:21
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George Stocker
223 points
  • "tough interviews attract top talent" - great insight! – Jay Bazuzi 7 years ago

3

Sadly, I am yet to see one company where data shows that people take any more vacation time or are any more productive. It also is all hype and does not improve recruiting.
There is a HUGE difference from perception and data shows.

Americans just don't know how to unwind and take proper time off. We are known for it worldwide.

I spoke yesterday to a CEO friend of mine who has built a 150 person tech company and has deployed "unlimited" vacation policy. He is smart, so he put a lot of metrics in place. When I asked him about how His answer to me was: "no change in vacation utilization".

Add use of Agile on top, which is one of the reasons for such a high burnout in people, and you have the most volatile mix.

My take - you will just have to make people take time off (in my current company I will pester you until I see you take at least 10 biz days off straight). Oh and Agile has to be reigned in, before it turns into "points fetish".

answered Aug 2 '12 at 03:30
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Apollo Sinkevicius
3,323 points
  • I think I'm reading the exact opposite of the argument you meant to write: A big company implemented the policy, and people aren't taking any more vacation, which tells me that people don't abuse the privilege. If that's the case, then why have the overhead/stress of keeping track of vacation days? If you want to require the use of vacation time, you could still do that while not imposing a maximum. – Brendan Long 7 years ago
  • I agree, there is only so much motivation one can get. Just getting a vacation is enough in my opinion. – Bhargav Patel 7 years ago
  • Brendan, Goal is to have people take vacations. One of the best companies I have helped build made sure you took vacations. In another company we also discovered that people were not taking enough vacation and were getting burned out, so we chose to strongly advocate for folks to take their time off. In both companies people started taking at least 15 business days of vacations each year and burn out went down. When you do "unlimited", it is really a gimmick that has an accounting trick behind it. You can't accrue "unlimited", so if you quit, you get no vacation pay. – Apollo Sinkevicius 7 years ago
  • Plus with all those recessions, no matter how well the team and company is doing, people are too afraid to take time off. At least when you put "limits" on, people are more likely to use them. – Apollo Sinkevicius 7 years ago

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