This article was published on April 28, 2022

Unlimited holiday schemes sound like a dream — until you’re picking up someone else’s slack

Not to burst your bubble


Unlimited holiday schemes sound like a dream — until you’re picking up someone else’s slack
Kirstie McDermott

Unlimited annual leave — it’s the dream, right? Going from a set number of days at your previous employer to a new company where the world is your oyster (in holiday terms) can feel exciting, liberating — and potentially a little bit scary. Will you ever get any work done?

The concept of unlimited holiday leave originated in the mid-1990s within the tech industry in Silicon Valley. IBM was an early adopter, and despite often being decried as a PR, rather than HR, tool its adoption has spread globally and there are now UK-owned and operated tech companies offering it too.

On paper, unlimited holidays sound great. Such schemes are designed to help with employee attraction, retention, and wellbeing, but there are a few things to consider before signing up to a new job where this is the paid time off (PTO) scheme. Firstly, will you be able to take the time off you’d like to in order to do the best work you can? After all, we all need downtime — and rest is crucial.

One of the reported downsides of unlimited leave policies is that, in the absence of a structured policy, people begin to take less days off. In the US, tech company Buffer discovered that many of its staff were taking less than 15 days a year of annual leave. In response, it implemented a minimum holiday time policy of three weeks per year to encourage its people to take more time off.

We do things a little differently on this side of the pond though. The good news is that in the UK, the Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR) guarantee workers 5.6 weeks of annual leave each year. So anything additional is really a bonus.

Another potential downside of unlimited holidays is that, as leave isn’t tracked, it isn’t accrued either meaning if you go elsewhere, you won’t be paid for any days not taken. But having access to unlimited days off means that employees have flexibility in their schedules to account for all the things life can throw at us — and not just fabulous destination holidays.

Lastly, uncapped PTO schemes can create workplace tension, with some employees taking more time off than others — which leaves those left in the office gritting their teeth as they pick up the slack.

On balance, adoption and practice of a company’s unlimited annual leave policy appears to be largely cultural. If everyone in the workplace is making use of the policy and it’s supported by management, it can be a great benefit.

Still think unlimited holidays are right for you? Here are three tech companies that have adopted it into their work culture:

Netflix

It has been named one of the world’s best employers by Forbes. One of the many perks of working at Netflix is the unlimited holiday benefit the company offers.

Our vacation policy is ‘take vacation’ and we actually do,” the streamer says. “Time away works differently at Netflix. We don’t have a prescribed 9-to-5 workday, so we don’t have prescribed time off policies for salaried employees, either. We don’t set a holiday and vacation schedule, so you can observe what’s important to you—including when your mind and body need a break. We believe in working smarter, not harder.

Virgin

Sir Richard Branson introduced unlimited holiday leave at Virgin’s parent company in 2014, inspired by similar plans at streaming platform Netflix.

“It is left to the employee alone to decide if and when he or she feels like taking a few hours, a day, a week or a month off,” he said in a blog post on his website.

“The assumption being that they are only going to do it when they feel 100% comfortable that they and their team are up to date on every project and that their absence will not in any way damage the business — or, for that matter, their careers,” he added.

Visualsoft

This ecommerce software business and digital marketing agency has multiple locations in the north of England including Manchester, Newcastle, and Stockton-on-Tees. It offers a wealth of perks and benefits to employees including unlimited paid holidays and flexible working.

In addition, they also offer their employees ​​free eye tests and flu jabs, monthly treats which include Amazon vouchers, Playstation credits, Birchbox, or Just Eat vouchers. Plus, there’s free breakfast.

Visualsoft CEO Dean Benson said it had introduced the PTO scheme to allow for flexibility.

It’s down to the employee to decide whether or not he or she wants to come into the office, and also how much time off they deserve, as long as they are satisfied with the job they are doing.

To find out more about the open job roles and benefits at a host of companies including Indeed, PayPal, and Experian, visit the House of Talent Job Board.

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