E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

From the blog

Want to Trust Your Employees? Give Them All Unlimited Vacation Days

Gran Canaria - Las Canteras Beach in the WinterAs I am about to enjoy my last day on vacation, since tomorrow morning I will be heading over to Orlando, Florida, to embark on the regular yearly pilgrimage trip to attend IBM’s event of events around the world of Collaboration, Knowledge Sharing and the Social Enterprise (Of course, I’m talking about the one and only: Lotusphere 2012), I just couldn’t help putting together this blog post about an article that, when I first bumped into it, I found it incredibly innovative, rather refreshing and very re-energising, but after finishing it up I just thought… “Gosh, that’s a given! Why are we not doing it in today’s corporate world on a wider scale?” … “Give Your Employees Unlimited Vacation Days” may sound all to unrealistic and utopian at best, yet, to me, it’s the ultimate goal for any employer out there around Employee Engagement: Trust your employees to do the right thing!

Indeed, in a rather inspiring and incredibly thought-provoking article, Joe Reynolds (From Red Frog Events) shares the story of how over at his company (Red Frog) they celebrate vacation. They encourage it and they ensure that once work is done and you are covered you are happy to take as many holidays, as an employee, as you would want to. And interestingly enough he comments that this new system has never been abused so far. Surprise, surprise. Well, not really. Why should it?

I mean, last time I brought this subject up, perhaps not over here in this blog, (Although I think I may have hinted it earlier on over at “Reflections from 2011 – Is Employee Engagement Still a Myth?“) but certainly in multiple conversations all over the place, unless you are a rather special business, you have always got a tendency to hire the smartest of talent out there; truly hard working networked professionals who know exactly what’s expected of them and how to excel at their jobs. I know that most of you out there would get a good giggle out of this one, but last time I checked no-one out there is hiring jerks nowadays, and, if you are, you certainly have got a rather problematic issue with your own HR hiring process that needs fixing really soon, that has got nothing to do with social networking tools nor how people use them, by the way. It’s more of a fundamental, organisational issue altogether.

So considering that you have got a whole bunch of hard working networked knowledge workers, why wouldn’t you allow them to take as many holidays as they would want to? It’s not surprising, indeed, that the system won’t be abused, as Joe mentions on that article. On the contrary. If your knowledge workers are truly motivated, and rather passionate, appreciated, recognised and rewarded for their exceedingly good jobs, not only are they going to be willing to take their extended holidays, but there is also a great chance that they would come back to work sooner than expected! That’s what passion does for you. You can’t think any longer whether work is holiday, or whether holiday is work. It’s no longer about striking a good balance between work and life, but more moving things into the next frontier: work life integration.

Yes, that’s right! It’s all about finding that flexibility of doing your job in an effective manner, when you need to do work, and treasuring your personal life when you would need to do so as well. More than anything else because, as Joe mentions, the traditional concept of office work (From 9:00 am to 5:00 pm) is now a thing of the past! Things have moved on and we are at the stage where more and more employers are starting to lower down their own center of gravity, and the power of decision, and leave it down to employees to make the right decisions for the work they are doing. Main reason why? Well, as a starting point, they are beginning to trust their employees much more than whatever else in the past. And this is an important matter, because we are seeing, finally!, that social transformation where knowledge workers are no longer treated like sheep, as in sheeple (and, as such, they no longer behave like sheep either!), and, instead, they are treated as what they are: people with enough motivation and passion for their jobs to want to go the extra mile, if you offer to go the extra mile yourself. So why not offering that opportunity of unlimited vacation days then? It does make plenty of sense, right?

Of course, it does! If not, have a look into the main reasons that Joe mentions why this rather creative initiative is working out really well for them:

  • It treats employees like the adults they are
  • It reduces costs by not having to track vacation time
  • It shows appreciation
  • It’s a great recruitment tool

Plenty of common sense altogether, no doubt! But perhaps this quote from Joe’s article is much more accurate in describing why such innovative policies will be key, critical, and essential, to attract and retain top talent in a world where we are starting to see plenty of fierce competition on the subject:

Through building a company on accountability, mutual respect, and teamwork, we’ve seen our unlimited vacation day policy have tremendous results for our employees’ personal development and for productivity

Both of my good friends Beth Laking and Paul Gillin pretty much nailed it a few days back as well when they tweeted their thoughts about this very same article:




The rather interesting and exciting thing though is that Red Frog is not the only company doing this. One of my favourite people, and really good friend, the always insightful and rather smart Maggie Fox, has been doing that at Social Media Group for a good couple of years now and has been having tremendous success with this initiative highlighting how it exactly works out for all of them. She wrote about it a while ago under “Why we decided to offer unlimited vacation at Social Media Group” and it’s even more surprising how the only negative reaction towards that initiative is that most people, specially, new hires, don’t believe that there could be such a thing! Goodness! If that’s all, perhaps we also need to start shifting gears ourselves, knowledge workers, thinking that it is also possible working for employers who truly respect and very much appreciate us, employees, to do what we do best, i.e. our jobs, and be rewarded with that much deserved extended holiday break.

After all, it’s thanks to that flexibility, passion, engagement and commitment to our jobs, in keeping excelling at what we are already pretty good at, that clearly demonstrate how not only do we love what we do, but also how we love our lives even more, like Elizabeth Lupfer talked about over at The Social Workplace just recently in a beautiful blog post, which I would highly recommend you go ahead and read through it all, to ponder further and digest on some golden nuggets like this one, which clearly sets the stage of how the corporate world is, finally, starting to come to terms with embracing that new concept of Social Transformation of Your Business – The Workplace of the Future:

Organizations that create cultures that value balance, and assist employees to achieve life balance will be rewarded with highly engaged employees. Work-life balance does not mean  that employees are not loyal, nor committed to their organizations, it means that employees want to lead whole lives, not lives solely centered on work

To me, replace “balance” with “integration” and we are already there! Don’t think about striking a good balance between work and life, because you will never achieve it (Work will always eat that balance up any given time, before you even notice it!), but more a full integration of your personal life into work and work into your personal life. That’s the key, the sweet spot. That’s what really matters.

I just had one of the most amazing holidays I can remember; mostly disconnected, unwinding from everything online, re-charging my batteries fully, getting plenty more energy levels, full again of optimism and outrageousness, and yet, I can’t wait to get back to work tomorrow, on my way to Orlando, Florida, to attend Lotusphere, even if that happens over the weekend… Already looking forward to seeing over there lots of smart friends and customers wanting to Live Social. Do Business.

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  1. I agree. I worked for a company in the early 90s and we had unlimited vacation. Mentally it was great knowing that you could take time if you needed it. No one abused it as everyone wanted to work there forever.

  2. Hey Luis, thank you for your warm words – and we have found exactly as Joe has, that there has been zero abuse of our program. Frankly, it’s a no-brainer, I’d never go back.

    I also had the good fortune to have a conversation just yesterday with a friend who is an experienced CEO. She’s planning to implement this plan at her new startup, so the idea is taking root!

  3. Luis –

    What an exciting concept! After working several years in large organizations, having no limit on vacation seems foreign to me but I like it.

    Another possible benefit of offering unlimited vacation time is building a fire under the organization to keep cultivating a healthy culture. If I was a boss in this environment, I would think more carefully about implementing new, clunky policy and be all ears on other decisions/systems needing repair.

    Best regards,

  4. Totally agree. I’ve always been of the mindset; put the tools in the toolbox, let me know why we’re doing this, how we need to do it, and what constraints/deadlines to bear in mind, and then get out of my way.

    Why “attract and retain top talent,” only to not trust/empower them to perform at their best? We are here to do something, reward those who accomplish more with more freedom.

    Preach it, Luis.

  5. So what stops this in organizations? Are they not obsessed with control and process?

    So they end up being childish – no wonder everyone is so busy going nowhere – for they almost never work out what is really going on and then what should we do.

    People then game the system. But freelancers don’t live this this.

    As a self employed person, my clients and I contract to do something. The WHY and the WHAT have to be spelled out.

    There is often a deadline but never a schedule of how or when within that timeline I work. I am hired because I also know how to do the work. No one is going to tell me how.

    So inside this container – I am free to work or not when I want to. The reality today even in organizations is that most real work has to take place after office hours.

    So like all of us – I work when it suits me – it only matters that I do a good job in the time that I have agreed with the person who pays.

    Simple? but not for organizations because they are designed to be infantile – why more and more people with real talent cannot work in them.

    Why organizations that want real talent will have to learn how to operate a network

    1. Absolutely, Rob! Vision has been reduced to little more than financial planning and meaningless, buzzword-addled mission statements.

      Infantile is the best word choice I’ve seen in some time. The future of work is looking increasingly consultive and piecemeal. The industrial revolution has become the oppressor. Intrinsically motivated talent is waking up to how much power they truly possess.

      Queue “Freebird.”

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