The Case for Unlimited Holiday and How to Make it Work

16 February 2020

Did someone say unlimited holidays? Yes please!

Over the past decade, there has been a rise in the popularity of companies offering unlimited paid leave. Totaljobs reported that the number of companies offering the benefit is rising by a steady 10% each year and it’s not just cool start-ups either. Big names such as Netflix, LinkedIn and Virgin have all spoken openly about the positive effect unlimited leave has had on the wellbeing of their people. So, is it too good to be true?

A quick Google search will bring up many articles claiming that as great as it sounds, unlimited leave has its problems. Having managed the scheme previously and recently introducing it to our start up, Tewke, we’ve learnt a few things along the way. Here’s how you can make unlimited holiday work for you and your people:

Create Clarity

By far the most common response when I speak to new employees about our holiday policy is of course ‘wow!’ but it’s often closely followed by ‘what does that actually mean?’. Unlimited can never really mean unlimited. I haven’t tested it but I’m pretty sure that if I were to ask my CEO for the rest of the year off, he might have something to say about it.

Not having a clear idea about ‘how much is too much’ can create anxiety for staff, so it’s important to be clear from the beginning what you mean by unlimited. For instance, if your staff aren’t performing or there’s a big deadline coming up for the business it’s unlikely that the leave would be approved. Taking extended leave for a big life event such as a honeymoon is a more acceptable reason than you fancied taking a couple of weeks off work to binge-watch Netflix.

It’s also important to regularly reassure staff that taking time off is not a bad thing and in fact is actively encouraged.

Keep a Record

Most companies when considering unlimited holiday are concerned that staff will take advantage of them. However, the stats show a different story. Statistically, in companies that offer unlimited leave, staff take less holiday than those in companies that offer a traditional allowance.

While it’s tempting to neglect tracking leave (after all, if it’s unlimited why do we need to record how much time off people are taking?), it is far more important to ensure that your team are taking enough time to relax and recuperate as it is to track whether they are taking too much.

Time off away from the workplace, however great your work culture is, is essential to ensure that your people are happy, healthy and performing their best. Consider introducing a lower limit on how much leave employees must take each year to help manage this and regularly check in with employees to remind them of the importance of taking time off.

Lead by Example

As mentioned before, one of the main problems with unlimited leave is that it can cause anxiety of the unknown of what is acceptable. One way to combat this is to ensure that you are setting the right example. Just as working twelve-hour shifts and never leaving the office can make staff feel they have to do the same to get ahead, never taking holiday will also give the same impression. Show your people just how important it is to take a break by taking a break yourself!

Ensure your management team are consistent and that there is no favouritism. Unlimited time off can be a difficult benefit to understand if you have spent your whole working life in a more traditional office and those approving leave requests must be consistent with other managers to ensure fairness across the board.

Do it for the right reasons

Your people aren’t stupid. If you’re just using unlimited leave as a gimmick to attract talent or give the impression of having a great culture your existing staff will see through it soon enough. Unlimited leave can be a wonderful thing but if you’re constantly making your staff second guess themselves as to whether they can take time off, then it’s pointless. Treat your people like the adults that they are, and you’ll be amazed at how well most people can manage their time given the opportunity.

Unlimited leave can be an excellent way to show your employees that you trust them. Studies show that staff that perceive their employer trust them work harder than those that don’t. Feeling trusted conjures up positive emotions such as feeling safe and valued, in contrast, if you employees feel you don’t trust them it can cause fear and resentment.

Giving your people the freedom to manage their own time shows them that you not only trust them, but you value them and their wellbeing.

In Conclusion…

For us, offering unlimited leave at Tewke was a no brainer having had a very positive experience of running the scheme in our previous company. We found that by giving our people the autonomy to take as much time off as they needed to come to work feeling their best reduced the pressures of managing work and home.

After all, you are living life whether you’re at work with your colleagues or at home with your children and inevitably, at times, parts of your life will take priority over another. By offering unlimited leave as well as flexible working, we give our people the freedom to get whatever it is that needs to get done to live a happy and fulfilling life, therefore ensuring they bring the very best version of themselves to the workplace.