Unlimited Time Off Sounds Great, But Employees Don’t Take Advantage

Image source: © Sergey Nivens – stock.adobe.com

Image source: © Sergey Nivens – stock.adobe.com

In competitive places like Silicon Valley, work-life balance has become an increasingly important consideration for sought-after professionals. The most talented employees don’t just want good salaries – they want good corporate cultures and convenient schedules. That has led to a revolution in benefits packages, and the rise of the ultimate work-life balance perk: unlimited time off.

It is a benefit that sounds nearly utopian. But it has paid off well for the companies that have implemented it – more so, in fact, than it has for their employees. Studies show that corporations are, by far, getting the better end of the bargain, in part because employees with unlimited time off are not taking full advantage of this benefit, and in part because unlimited vacation packages generate no earned time off for companies to pay to departing employees.

It is no secret that the average American leaves a lot of vacation time on the table. It turns out that this behavior does not change when workers get unlimited time off. At Evernote, for example, the problem got so bad that management started paying employees to take at least one week off per year.

And for employees who typically choose not to take many vacations, unlimited vacation time isn’t only useless – it’s actually a negative. Traditional vacation time models allow workers to accumulate vacation days, and fired employees get paid for those earned days. No such safety net exists for those with unlimited vacation time. Paradoxically, a policy that was intended as a benefit could potentially be a net negative for some employees.

All of this has led to a bit of a backlash against the unlimited time off model. Tech firms like Kickstarter have even gone back to limiting vacation days in order to improve work-life balance – a step that would have been seen as regressive only a few years ago. Unlimited time off has not been the game-changer that some hoped it would be, and the quest for the ultimate work-life balance benefits package continues.

Stephen Lovely - 5-31-16


Stephen Lovely is a freelance writer based in Washington State. He writes about lifestyle, tech, and culture. You can find his writing on WorkClear and his tweets at @stephenlovely.

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