4 Reasons to Rethink Unlimited Vacation

Have all the unlimited vacation stories gotten your attention? Before grabbing a seat on the bandwagon, here are four things you should carefully consider.

Are unlimited time-off policies getting your attention? You're not alone. They're everywhere; or at least they seem to be. You know when you search "unlimited vacation time" and you get 84 million results you've got some buttons pushed.

But before you decide to grab a seat on the unlimited vacation bandwagon, here are four things you should consider:

Unlimited Vacation Fixes Nothing

What are you trying to accomplish: a statement about business culture? A true desire to allow people to find their own rhythm between work and life? You may be barking up the wrong tree. A FORTUNE article said US workers are already leaving five days of vacation on the table every year. And we have a study that says employees will not go away, with only a third taking all of their vacation. So rather than throwing more vacation at them, maybe a better idea would be to figure out a solution to the root problem: getting them to actually take the days they already have.

It May Send the Wrong Message

We've established that unlimited vacation time doesn't really equal people taking more vacation. That makes giving people more time seem contradictory. So what are you going for? The cynical will say the real value is that you won't have to pay people for unused vacation time when they leave. Maybe this is the right motivation from a financial standpoint, but it might not earn you any points with your people. And it sure sounds less sexy.

It May Cause More Problems Than It Solves

Let's says your plan works and people start taking mass volumes of vacation. How will you deal with the added "time off tension" between employees? Planned time off can already cause conflicts. Unless the underlying and long-standing tensions subside - the ones between people who take time off and their colleagues who feel like they're forced to pick up the slack - you're going to have some problems. So you'll need to have a plan to build trust, and to make sure all parties feel valued, heard, and equal in the "work completed" to "time away" equation.

You May End Up With Chaos 

Those who know me know that I am not a policy wonk. But I do appreciate the need for some helpful guidelines in certain areas. And structured vacation rules? Those are helpful guidelines. Without them, people may take less time, feel added guilt about the "extra" time they do take, or take way more time than you expect.  Even when the extreme time away can be justified, the associated confusion can create unintended performance or cultural consequences.


So there you go. Unlimited vacation? Maybe not as pretty as it sounds. Unless the goal is purely to save dollars, a reasonable time-off policy with the appropriate situational discretion and flexibility should suffice.

Written by: Bright Horizons Blog Editor

About the Author

Bright Horizons logo on yellow background

The Bright Horizons Blog Editor frequently posts on the real solutions that meaningfully support employees, advance careers, and drive the world’s leading brands. The Editor curates the latest news, trends, and challenges facing HR pros because your time is scarce. Follow the Bright Horizons Blog to receive this insight in your inbox.