What job perk could possibly be better than unlimited paid vacation days?
Just picture the perfect work/life balance, the quality time you’d spend with family and friends (or maybe just a good book on the beach).
When I first began to catch sight of job openings with this distinctive perk, it seemed nearly too good to be true!
Now that I’ve been the lucky recipient of such a policy at Buffer, it’s fascinating to see things from the other side, too. At our startup, we’ve found that unlimited vacation time isn’t always as simple as it might seem—at least, not without a few important tweaks.
As a result, this year we’ve made major changes to our vacation policy–in effect, we now pay each teammate at least $1,000 to take a vacation every year.
If you’re interested in making sure your team has the time and space away from work that they need to return fresh and full of ideas, here are some tips and methods we’ve uncovered.
Unlimited vacation: A tech perk going mainstream
Although less than 1% of employers offer unlimited paid vacation time, that doesn’t always feel like the case in the perk-heavy atmosphere of Silicon Valley startups.
Netflix, Hubspot and Evernote all tout the policy, which has even crossed over into the mainstream through companies like Virgin America and Best Buy.
There are definitely some cool pros to the policy, like being trusted by your bosses and having the freedom to do whatever you want with your time through a policy that’s fair and level across the board.
The problem with unlimited
But how do these policies do at their goal—actually getting employees to take time off? Turns out, not always so great.
In one company’s case study, people actually ended up taking far less time off. Both the Los Angeles Times and Kickstarter actually ended up rescinding their unlimited vacation time policies following similar challenges.
What turns this incredible perk into a bit of a landmine? A few elements:
- A bias against vacation time: Americans are vacation-averse to begin with. 56% haven’t taken a vacation in a year, the average American employee only takes half of their days off, and 61% report working during vacations.
- Decision fatigue: Because an unlimited vacation policy isn’t explicit about how many days off someone should take, we’re all mentally weighing each day and how it makes us look to others. That takes a lot of mental energy—so much so that we might end up choosing nothing.
- “Superjobs” keep us motivated to work: We often talk about how work is pretty fun at Buffer. We have the privilege of what Bloomberg writer Megan McArdle calls “superjobs”: “The people who do these jobs have a very high level of commitment to their work, partly because the people who do them tend to be hard-working, and partly because being a successful professional is such a deep part of their personal identity and ethos.” That can make